Add nauseum again at CSUS, Inc.

Greg Kane

The first thing you notice is that the classroom is big. That’s generally a good sign. Many desks, after all, require many students to fill them. Add slip in one hand, class schedule in the other, you grab a seat, casting nervous glances toward the door. Will more students come in? Will they be registered? Or are they trying to add, too?

Surveying the room, the professor asks the students who are not registered to give a show of hands. You raise your hand. So does the girl in front of you. And the guy next to her, and his girlfriend. All in all, 15 eager hands shoot up.

The professor chuckles. Your heart sinks. This is not going to be as easy as you thought.

Adding classes is a pain. At the beginning of every semester, Sacramento State students are packed into classrooms like fish in a cannery, trying to convince professors that they are the ones – not that other guy, that junior – who deserve to add a course. Students cast dirty looks at each other, jockey for position at the instructor’s podium, and try to out-do each others’ sad stories, all in an effort to get that magical add slip signed, sealed and delivered.

There is more to the add game than many students know, however. A tug-of-war between instructors and department chairs over class sizes occurs every year at the beginning of the semester – with students, stuck between the warring sides, providing the proverbial rope.

Most classes at Sac State are capped after a certain number of students enroll. For some, that number is 25. For others, it’s closer to 40. The numbers change depending on the material covered in the class. If it’s a survey class, for example, more students could be accommodated than, say, a creative writing class.

That cap number becomes an issue of debate every semester. Instructors don’t want to go over the set class size, fearing that administration will raise the cap number the following semester. Administrators, certain that a number of students will drop the class after the first few weeks, don’t mind seeing instructors add students over the cap to balance the drops.

Two different sides pull in two different directions. And there you are, in the middle, trying to get that add slip signed.

Both sides have valid points. Sac State faculty members are among the highest in the nation in workload, and adding extra students to that number can only make matters worse. Jim Chopyak, president of the Sacramento chapter of the California Faculty Association, says that if anything, instructors are taking on too many students, not the opposite.

“Most faculty ended up with a 25 percent increase (in class sizes) during the budget crisis ten years ago, and that’s never been rolled back,” Chopyak says. “It’s not fair to faculty or students, because we don’t have the time to take all of them.”

Instructors also risk losing the flexibility to add students when cap numbers are raised, says David Wagner, dean of Faculty and Staff Affairs.

When a class size is lower, instructors can typically add a few students in desperate situations, such as graduating seniors. With a larger class, however, that freedom would be gone.

“Teachers want some authority to assess if it’s a prerequisite or a graduating senior,” Wagner says.

Even if instructors added a large number of students over the cap, the obligatory drops that will occur over the first few weeks of the semester would balance things out, Wagner says. “In some classes, an instructor may wind up with a lot of students who stick around for a week or two, and then they’re gone,” he says. “A department head may say, ‘I want you to take a certain number of extra students (to compensate for the loss).'”

Wrangling like this never goes away. Instructors will always find reasons why their workload should be smaller; administrators will always find reasons to pile it on. It’s a vicious management versus labor tug-of-war that occurs in every corporate environment – including California State University, Inc.

And there you are. Trying to get that add slip signed.