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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Shelton aims to restructure course funding

    Economics 200, taught by professor Gerald Swanson in the Social Sciences building, is one of many classes filled to capacity this semester. Full classes make it hard to pick up additional classes, but administrators are working to solve the problem.
    Economics 200, taught by professor Gerald Swanson in the Social Sciences building, is one of many classes filled to capacity this semester. Full classes make it hard to pick up additional classes, but administrators are working to solve the problem.

    Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a two-part series examining class availability and registration issues.

    With almost nothing certain about class availability beyond next semester, the UA needs to change the way classes are funded, officials said.

    President Robert Shelton said colleges depend too much on temporary funds from the state instead of permanent, recurring funds, which are more stable since the university receives them annually.

    Shifting more emphasis onto these recurring funds is one way to help ease the tense class availability situation, Shelton said.

    There are no plans to totally overhaul class funding, but Jerry Hogle, vice provost of instruction, said it would be wise to do some restructuring, which Shelton may consider.

    David Ortiz, a history professor, said the biggest obstacle to class availability is a small number of professors who have to accommodate a large number of students.

    Ortiz said the UA’s history department is much smaller than other universities of comparable size, but still has about half the professors it needs.

    The political science department is in a similar situation, with fewer than 19 professors who serve about 1,000 student majors.

    William Dixon, head of the political science department, said his situation could have been much worse after one professor retired and two others left for other jobs in the spring.

    But the department hired two professors who began teaching in August. In addition, another will begin in January and another may be hired for next fall.

    Dixon said the ideal situation would be to have between 30 and 45 faculty members.

    “”Realistically, I don’t think that will happen,”” Dixon said.

    Even with a faculty of 25 professors, Dixon said students would be able to feel a difference.

    But funding is a major obstacle. Hiring one professor in the political science department would cost the UA about $87,000 per year in salary and benefits, Dixon said.

    ‘Follow student demand’

    Dixon said it would make sense for his department to get more money because it has the second-highest enrollment of any major on campus.

    Shelton has not been in office long enough to have a major impact on class availability issues, but Dixon said he was hopeful about the future.

    “”If he is able to change the financial model that’s used so that at least some of the dollars students pay in tuition follow students, then I think he will have accomplished a tremendous amount,”” Dixon said.

    Hogle said Shelton’s budget for this year included some decisions that increased funding for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, to which the political science department belongs.

    Majors within the college are popular with UA students, and Hogle said the recent increase of money it received is a reflection of that.

    “”You have to follow student demand,”” Hogle said, adding that it is difficult to predict which departments or courses will be in high demand even after they decide on a college.

    “”We don’t know where the students are going,”” Hogle said.

    Looking long-term

    Gail Burd, an associate dean of the College of Science, said class availability is affected by more than just funding.

    “”We need just the right amount of money, and we need it at just the right time,”” Burd said.

    Burd said the UA offered her college some money to hire a new math professor in the early part of August, but the math department decided not to hire someone new because no one who was available to start on short notice was up to teaching standards.

    Despite not having as many professors as it had hoped for, the math department was mostly successful in getting students into the classes they needed.

    In some classes, like lower-division algebra and calculus classes, Burd said a few students were forced to wait for other registered students to drop courses in order to get seats.

    Last-minute budgeting is an ongoing concern for departments looking to offer the right classes, Burd said.

    John W. Olsen, chair of the anthropology department, said his budget situation is similar.

    “”We come up to October, not knowing what we can offer in January,”” Olsen said.

    Olsen said the short time frame forces him to make decisions much later and under more pressure than he would prefer.

    “”Strategic decisions are almost always better than tactical decisions,”” Olsen said.

    Burd said it would help a lot to have a budget for the College of Science that spanned three years.

    But Shelton said it might be impossible to make any budget that far in advance because the UA budget is decided and revised every year.

    Still, Shelton said relying more on recurring funds would help ease this problem for departments because that money is more likely to come through.

    Shelton also said he would advise department heads to plan ahead realistically without knowing exactly what their budget will be, saying it was a lesson he learned as chair of the physics department at the University of California at Davis.

    “”You are 90 percent likely to get 90 percent of what you ask for,”” Shelton said.

    The four-year question

    Dixon said he was working in the political science department to make sure that not only did students have access to all the classes they need to graduate, but graduate on time.

    The department has two full-time advisers to help students achieve that goal, Dixon said.

    But while the UA touts the four-year plan, some students are still not able to get the right classes they need to graduate in four years.

    The English department makes an effort to offer “”a little flexibility”” to students who would be graduating but who are unable to because they can’t register for a required class, said Sean Cobb, a graduate advising associate in the department.

    Sometimes, the English department lets its majors substitute classes in order to meet graduate on time.

    “”We’re actually pretty lucky,”” Cobb said, adding that cases where this happens are exceedingly rare.

    Even though the UA is doing its best to meet the needs of its students, Shelton said relying on creative solutions can only go so far.

    The rest is dependent on the state Legislature, Shelton said.

    Although he is doing his best to persuade legislators to help, Shelton said he doesn’t yet know what to make of the political atmosphere in Phoenix.

    “”In the end, you have to wind up getting more funds,”” Shelton said.

    Hogle said he is optimistic about the future of funding classes at the UA because Shelton is open to new ideas about budgeting.

    “”I believe the president is willing to look at possible ways to restructure the ways we fund classes,”” Hogle said.

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