Going into my freshman year at Williams, I already had a pretty good idea of my potential majors. I was excited to take a wide spectrum of courses and experiment in different fields, but I made political science and German courses a priority. As a result, I am entering the upcoming spring semester with half of my German major completed and two-thirds of my political science major out of the way. I briefly considered becoming a studio art major but decided against it, opting instead to pursue art in a nonacademic setting. Still wishing to be challenged in the field, however, I took “Drawing I” and a figure drawing Winter Study class. My final class in the studio art department was supposed to be “Painting.”
Recognizing that it’s a particularly difficult class to get into, I e-mailed the professor prior to signing up for it. After being dropped I met with him in the art building and attended the first class meeting. All my efforts were fruitless. Never mind, I thought, I’ll make it work next semester. I repeated these actions but to a greater degree, shamelessly attempting to guilt-trip the professor by emphasizing that I had been dropped from the class the previous semester. Nonetheless, I was once again dropped. When I e-mailed the professor, begging to be given another chance, he responded matter-of-factly, “the course was overenrolled by 12 people and I filled it according to the priorities set in the course description.”
My experience is not unique at Williams. One friend, a comparative literature major, has been dropped from “Painting” three times. Another friend, a psychology and studio art double major, was dropped from a 200-level psychology course she needed for her major. These are just a few examples of an increasingly prevalent problem.
While recognizing that being dropped from courses is an accepted part of the College’s enrollment process, the current number of dropped students, especially in certain departments, is unacceptable. The opportunity to explore many different disciplines is an integral part of attending a small liberal arts college. But there are a limited number of classes that don’t fall within divisional requirements or our majors and those courses, ones that are truly elective, are chances for us to explore our previously unexplored interests.
When a department is so understaffed and underfunded that it cannot take non-major students (and even has to drop students within a major), we are denied the opportunity to fully participate in the liberal arts experience. Instead, students who wish to enroll in consistently over-enrolled courses such as “Painting” must find ways to circumvent the college’s process. One student suggested, via e-mail, that I declare a studio art major in order to get into “Painting” but then drop the major after being accepted. I opted not to do this, having just declared my double major the week before being dropped from “Painting,” but neither should I feel like I have to take such an action. Based on the art professor’s e-mail, I must accept (bitterly) that I have almost no chance of ever successfully enrolling in “Painting”: I am no longer a sophomore (and wasn’t accepted when I was one), I am not a studio art major and taking both “Drawing II” and “Painting” in my final semesters is highly unlikely.
I recognize that there are a limited number of solutions to the problem of course over-enrollment. I enjoy small class sizes and I support the College’s efforts to keep class sizes small. In the cases where large numbers of students are being dropped, however, exceptions must be made. The administration (and the students) must accept that in order to allow students a greater number of opportunities, some class sizes must be increased. In the case of a course like “Painting,” where class size is limited by physical space, another section of the course should be created. I realize such a solution puts an increased burden on professors, but the academic experience of many students is being severely affected by current enrollment limits. “Painting” has an enrollment limit of 15 people and 12 additional people were dropped, easily enough to create another section.
My experience at Williams has been overwhelmingly positive. It is unfortunate then that being dropped from a course two times in a row has caused me to doubt the College’s commitment to my academic experience. Since being dropped I have discovered a large community of students similarly discontent with what is seen as a serious problem. In the spirit of the liberal arts education, I hope to see the College address this problem on a large scale with visible results. As a student I will continue to be persistent and passionate about the courses I want and need to take.
Abbie Deal ’13 is a political science and German double major from Charlottesville, VA. She lives in Garfield.