Seminar Shortage Looms
By Eric Steigleder
Due to recent changes in the curriculum for incoming UMW freshmen, there is a shortage of professors planning to offer freshman seminars, a general education requirement under the newly altered course list.
Before November, when the decision was made to change the curriculum, English 101 was a required class for all incoming freshman. Freshman seminars, by contrast, were elective courses.
Following the changes, the English 101 requirement was dropped in favor of freshman seminars as a new general education course.
The recently increased student demand has made it necessary to increase the number of freshman seminar courses offered. However, the University lacks adequate faculty to take on these additional courses.
“It’s going to be a real test,” said John T. Morello, associate vice president for academic affairs.
“The real crush for us is how do we do recruiting for the spring semester?” Morello said. “For the fall, we’re short from what would be considered ideal. We will need to have more sections available for the spring – that’s the trick for us.”
Morello expressed confidence in the administration’s plans and actions to combat the problem. Beginning in early February, Morello said he put out a call to the faculty for an increase in freshman seminar course offerings.
Later that same month, according to Morello, the number of freshman seminar courses increased significantly.
“We had twenty-three sections,” he said. “Now, we have thirty-two.”
Morello said that such quick decision-making was uncommon in the world of higher education.
“That’s light speed,” he said.
Yet Morello was open when it came to the problems involving the freshman seminar requirement.
“The former English 101 requirement fell on one department,” he said. He went on to explain that under the new general education requirements, the freshman seminar courses fall on nearly all departments.
“Even with the English 101 requirement, we had to gear up,” he said, referring to the growing number of freshmen coming to the University.
Morello also outlined a planned faculty development program for a first year seminar workshop, scheduled for May. The workshop is intended to not only inform and instruct professors already planning to teach a freshman seminar, but to entice other professors to develop their own freshman seminar course.
“There are a lot of attractions,” Morello said. “Small classes, teaching on a topic that is in a faculty member’s interest and expertise.”
He also stated that offering a challenge solely to incoming freshman is something professors rarely get to do, and should serve as an additional perk to draw professors to teach a freshman seminar.
Morello made it clear that, overall, the University is in need of more faculty, yet discounted the idea that hiring more professors would fix this particular problem.
“I don’t know if we will be able to hire more faculty solely on the ground of first year seminars,” he said.
Morello felt that whatever budget shortfalls the University might be experiencing related to budget cuts would have little effect on the problems regarding first year seminar requirements.
“We didn’t do as badly with the budget as some anticipated, so it poses no additional barrier for the first year seminar requirement,” he said.
Meanwhile, Morello remains optimistic.
“I’m hopeful,” he said. “I’ve made the numbers available, and I’m confident the students won’t be left hanging.”