It would be easy at this moment in HSU's history — surprisingly fat with increased enrollment as the spring semester freshly sprouts, but also in belt-tightening mode to cover a lingering deficit — to assume that any tales of overstuffed classes and enormous waiting lists has directly to do with this happy-sad situation. One might further accuse that it's the administration's fault for not foreseeing what would happen when it went all hyper this past year with its push to meet enrollment targets, HSU having lagged in enrollment long enough to fear the CSU honchos would yank away funding.
And maybe there's some truth to that: HSU received 2,314 more applications by mid-January this year than a year ago, the increase mostly in freshmen applications. "Everything's tight this semester," said Bob Snyder, interim provost and vice president of student affairs.
But consider the case of class 309B, the most in-demand class at HSU, judging by its gargantuan waiting list. The class, "Gender and Communication," taught by Assistant Prof. Maxwell Schnurer, is so popular that this semester its three sections are filled to capacity and about 120 more students are clamoring to get in, around 70 of them seniors looking to fulfill a final general education requirement in order to graduate this spring.
One of those seniors is Jen McCollom. (Double disclosure: This writer happens to be friends with McCollom, and Schnurer writes for this paper on occasion.) McCollom, an English major who transferred from College of the Redwoods a couple of semesters ago, blames the situation on poor communication.
"Last November, registration opened on Friday, the 16th, at 9 a.m.," she said. "So at 9 a.m. I was registering [online]." She was able to get into all of the courses she needed, except for one: 309B. (She heard later it had filled up within the first six minutes.)
So at 10:17 a.m., McCollum emailed Schnurer. Ten days later, Schnurer e-mailed her back, saying the class was indeed full but that it was possible she could get into the class if someone dropped out; he'd put her on the waiting list. McCollum left it at that, figuring she'd probably get in.
"My experience at HSU has been, if I'm on a waiting list and I talk to the professor — and typically I've only had five people in front of me in other classes — and if I show up on the first day of class, I get in," she said.
On the first day of classes this month, she arrived at 309B to discover the waiting list was not a mere five students ahead of her, but 30 ahead and almost a hundred behind. She says she wishes she'd known these odds last November; she'd have signed up for something else. But now her school and work schedules are fixed, making adjustments difficult. Besides, most of the other classes she could take to fulfill the requirement are now full.
An advisor told McCollom that 309B was an unusual case — no other class had so many waiting to get in. Snyder explained the popularity of 309B: First, the class fulfills a requirement for communications majors. Second, it can be taken to satisfy three different areas of upper division general education requirements and is one of the less science-y ones, which makes a lot of students happy. Third, it satisfies the "diversity and common ground" course requiremed of every HSU student.
Snyder has little sympathy for seniors who can't get into that class. "They tell me this all the time: ‚ÄòI have to have it to graduate!'" he said. "No, that's not the case. They would like to have it." They can take another class, Snyder said. There are about 50 seats still open in this category of required courses.
Schnurer says the "bureaucratic wrangling and heavy-handed pressure from students have made teaching the class more difficult. Rather than focus my energy on preparing for class, I have to field requests and explain the situation to student after student."
He's worried what might happen next. "In many ways, Gender and Communication is a classic Humboldt class," he said. "The subject matter is thought-provoking, the schedule is rigorous, and the students are asked to think about the ways their lives are gendered. Dramatically increasing the size of the class would hurt a lot of those goals."
Snyder says not to worry. "I don't have any plans at this point to make this class bigger," he said. He also doesn't plan to add more sections. He wishes, instead, that students "would just distribute themselves" better instead of all trying to pile into 309B.
Which gets back to McCollom's complaint: Perhaps somebody should have warned people about the class's extreme popularity. "I have to think about it," Snyder said. "Maybe a note in the online catalog."