The Math Doesn’t Work for Department Budgets

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In order to close California’s massive deficit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a mid-year budget cut earlier this month to cut $65.5 million from the University of California this fiscal year, adding to the $48 million already cut this year. Furthermore, the proposed 2008-09 budget means that the UC would need to save an additional $100 million to cover student enrollment, expansion and other rising costs not funded by the state.
For those doing the math, that means the UC must make $213.5 million appear out of thin air. So far, the UC, among other things, has reduced expenses via hiring freezes, limited traveling, reduced consulting services and the use of leased facilities. Already running on the thinnest of margins, the proposed budget cut threatens to break the system and jeopardize your education.
How so? The UC may have to look into hiring more lecturers instead of using tenured faculty to teach courses, offering fewer course selections, reducing student services, limiting operation hours for libraries and holding back on proposed and approved programs that would put the UC further in the red. All these actions threaten the quality of your educational experience.
Earlier this month, the Math Department in the School of Physical Sciences came up with a new policy in response to these budget cuts. The previous policy gave students who received grades between a C- and D- the option to repeat the course at any time to replace the grade. A student could elect to move on to the next course in the series and retake the course over the summer, though the wiser student would retake the class the following quarter, ensuring a strong foundation and understanding before advancing. With any luck, it would not adversely affect enrollment in other courses that required the math class as a pre-requisite. Students who received an F or a Not Pass in the course were forced to retake it if it was a class needed to make “normal academic progress” toward their intended major.
Under the new policy, students who receive a grade between a C- and a D-, with the exception of Math 1B, are not allowed to retake the class until the following summer, when they will have to pay exorbitant fees and figure out housing costs. Students would be forced to take the next class in the series, whether or not they are prepared for it, creating an immediate backlog of students trying to retake the class instead of moving on to the next course in the series. However, students who receive an F or a NP are allowed to retake the course the next quarter.
So you can move on if you pass the course, but you can’t try to replace the bad grade until Summer Session I or II, where it would cost $158 per unit along with the $100 “campus fee.” So if you’re retaking one course, that would be $732. Not to mention the same material that was too difficult to grasp in 10 weeks is now being done in five weeks, with midterms every other week.
It just makes no sense. If a student has a D in Math 2A, what kind of success could he or she possibly expect to see in Math 2B? The student lacks an understanding of the material and wouldn’t be prepared to succeed in the next class in the series. And if the student gets another grade in the C- to D- range, that now means two classes to take during the summer, which would cost $1,364. All this delay would adversely affect the student’s ability to progress in their desired major.
Now think really hard for a second and ask yourself what math courses are required for your major. If you are in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Science, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering, the School of Physical Sciences, the Paul Merage School of Business or in the case of Business Economics, Economics and Quantitative Economics Majors in the School of Social Sciences, these math courses are prerequisites and co-requisites for classes in your major. For students interested in certain majors in those schools, there is also a grade point average requirement that would not be satisfied until those math classes are passed with a C or better. And without those classes, students would have to hold their ground and take general education, breadth or elective courses while waiting to switch.
This doesn’t even begin to take into account the financial struggles for students who cannot afford to take classes over the summer. Yes, students can apply for help from UC Irvine to take summer classes. Yes, UCI does take care of some students who are in desperate financial straits by paying all their fees for the summer. But how many applicants are approved for aid compared to the number who will need it? An even better question is how many applications will be approved now that we’re in the process of being asked to shave $213.5 million from our budget?
How about spacing issues? Last summer, during Summer Session I, 210 students enrolled for 240 spots in Math 2A while 319 enrolled for 360 spots in the Math 2B class. During Summer Session II, 133 and 391 students enrolled in the 2A and 2B courses with 170 and 488 spots, respectively. That lumps the classes together and asks students not to get picky about when their classes are. Now, with this added policy, those extra spots are going to fill up. Math 2A during fall quarter of 2008 had 871 students enrolled in 949 spots. If these classes are graded on a curve, then a good number of those students will be in that C- to D- range and would have to retake the class over the summer. We would have to hire more professors and open up more classes. But wait! We’re in a budget crisis. If anything else, there will be fewer spots for the increased demand in students.
And then there’s the glaring loophole. Students who receive an F or a NP in the class would be able to sign up on the first day of the new quarter and retake it if there was space. They would be ahead of their classmates who would be forced to sit and wait until summer. Essentially, if you’re sitting in a math class right now and barely passing, the only way you could take the class next quarter is if you fail. And it is unethical of me or any other peer advisor or counselor on this campus to tell any student to go out there and fail a class, but that is the new policy. It would seem that a student sitting on a marginal grade that may not pass would be able to retake the class only if he or she failed the final.
Keep in mind this is only how one department was forced to respond to the budget cuts. Think you aren’t affected? Anyone looking at the digital arts minor is already looking at a three-year waitlist. With cuts across the board, don’t think that list will be getting shorter. The School of Biological Sciences already has a limited number of lab courses, which filled up on the second day of registration, and a number of those may be cut as a result of the budget mess. Humanities, Social Sciences, Arts or just every department is going to have to trim their bottom line somewhere.
So what is the solution out there? If there was one, students could take these classes at local community colleges where the rates are cheaper and more space is available. But that isn’t even a possibility given the cuts across education lines that are affecting all higher education. All schools are being asked to accept fewer students next year in order to fit the new budget demands. And when that happens, where would all those students, who otherwise would have been accepted at a UC or a CSU, go? Most likely to the workforce or a community college, the same ones that are going to be needed to take our students to handle our lack of classes. And denying a student the privilege to attend an institute of higher learning goes against bailing out California.
By the numbers, for every $1 in tax money that the state invests in the UC system, there is a net return of $3. For every $1 spent in research, the UC receives an additional $6 from federal or private sources. In an age where UCI recently received a huge grant to study stem cell research and fight global warming, the implications could be great. The UC system generates $14 billion in California economic activity each year and contributes $4 billion in taxes. We pay our dues. We are worth the investment. It is time Sacramento realized that and finally cared for its students. If the “our children are the future” mantra was even remotely true, then why doesn’t anyone act on it?
We’re a part of one of the greatest public university systems in the United States. We pride ourselves on a four-year (and one quarter, on average) graduation rate. That four-year graduation rate appears to be a pipe dream at this point. We’re simply going to have to do more with less: fewer classes, materials, professors and educational opportunities. Students have to study that much harder to learn the subject material and pray they aren’t the ones left behind on the other side of the bell curve. Or they could be here longer than they intended, or worse, longer than their Cal Grants and FAFSAs will cover them. And there is the lie of trying to do more with less: no one ever does; you do less with less.

Harry Nguyen is a third-year biological sciences and criminology, law and society double-major. He is also a peer academic advisor. He can be reached at harryn@uci.edu.

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