Reject UT Becoming a Diploma Mill

"Exception" was the word of the night this Tuesday as I sat through Isabella Cunningham, the Chair of the Task Force on Enrollment Strategy, Q&A session with Student Government. Almost every question asked of the Task Force's recommendations by representatives and other students was met by that word. Students asked of the 5 year graduation limit and its corollary of making students take more credit hours "What if you're disabled, have a job, a non-traditional student, study abroad, and on and on?" The answer from Mrs. Cunningham was always something along the lines of, "they'll be exceptions."

Why have these rules implemented if almost anything can be exempted? The answer is yes there will be "exceptions" but you'll have to peel your way through another layer of bureaucracy at the university, and this by itself will be enough to deter students. If things are the way they are now most students won't even know the options available and many won't even think to ask even if they really need an additional semester or to take fewer hours. Bureaucracy is very efficient at keeping people from doing the things they want, and this may be the very reason why Cunningham knew she could appease students' questions, but know that in reality these recommendations could really work at their intended goal—speeding up students and increasing their workload.

In fact she skirted my question on Tuesday related to workload and educational "quality". To paraphrase I asked a two part question asking if she thought students were induced to take more classes per semester that they would want to take easier classes (say instead of 3 hard classes and 1 easy one, they may want to take 2 hard classes and 3 easier ones). And if so, how did she square that with the Task Force's claim to promote educational quality. The point I was trying to make is that more classes do not translate into higher quality education, at least not necessarily. A student may get more out of a class that is rigorous that they spend time on than on an easy class. This appeared to be a causal leap in the Task Force's analysis that still leaves me puzzled.

Her response was that a student and his or her advisor would track the student's progress and make a "rational" decision and "poof" students would not be taking easier classes. Ignoring that it probably is more rational for students to try to ease their work load by taking easier classes, she really just refused to answer the questions since it would damage the integrity of her recommendations.

To be fair a few of the recommendations by the Task Force are needed and welcomed by this student. In particular the Top 10% rule needs to be capped or else all students at UT will be admitted solely upon their class standing in high school. UT needs a holistic policy of determining admissions which takes into account background, test scores, extracurricular activities and class standing among other factors, not just one. Also the recommendation to allow graduating seniors priority in class registration is needed. Students shouldn't have to stay another semester just because they can't get into one or two classes they need.

However instead of viewing student flexibility and their choices, which includes students who want to get out in 3 years or 4 as well as those who want or need to pace themselves for whatever reason, as a problem to be solved, we all, but especially administrators, should just see them as individual choices best left up to students. Advisors are there already to help students along, why do we need a series of new hula hoops for students to jump through?

Oh yeah, I have a proposal of my own. The credit hour system is distorted. A four hour calculus class is harder and takes much more time than a three hour intro liberal arts class. Why don't we fix this semester to more adequately reflect the amount of work in a class? Also, remember the old rule of thumb they told you in registration: multiply the numbers of hours taken by 3 and that's the amount of time you're supposed to study. Even though few people do that much studying, why not make the number of credit hours you take reflect this? It's mystifying to say you're only taking twelve hours of school when you might be school-working for 40 hrs. Many engineering majors can testify to that.

My reason for this proposal is that much of what the Task Force on Enrollment Strategy is arguing for is an increased workload. Students may not be waged but we're working and that should be recognized explicitly. Lets end this nonsense of calling students simply investors or consumers of education, as if we're empty vessels being filled up with bought knowledge imparted from professors and books.

I highly suggest students support the Task Force's recommendations to cap the top 10% rule and to give seniors priority in registration, but please reject harsh limits on the number of semesters you are allowed to take, making it more difficult for you to change majors, and incentives to speed students up. At www.UTwatch.org there is a link to a page where you can give the Task Force feedback. In sum, please reject making UT a diploma mill.

Nick Schwellenbach
'2/18/2004