Quantity Over Quality
Since Jerry Brown had to cut the UC budget by $500 million, students have been feeling the aftershocks consistently, both within and outside the classroom setting.
Not only are tuition hikes digging deeper holes for students, but now talks abound about the eroding qualities of classrooms at UC Irvine.
“The university is doing everything it can to figure out how to cut costs and reduce services to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as we possibly can,” said UCI’s Meredith Michaels, Vice Chancellor of Planning and Budget. “[It’s] not easy, because they are real costs that have to be covered.”
Second-year humanities undecided major Tiffany Ujiiye took Criminology, Law and Society 7 last quarter and witnessed first-hand the effect of budget cuts within her class.
“It started to become an issue in week five when actual students had to sit on the floor or against the wall,” Ujiiye said. “Noise level was always an issue and I got maybe five emails from the professor asking students to keep quiet. We had to have special groups for studying because the course was intensive and I imagine one professor couldn’t cater towards everyone’s needs.”
Ujiiye also mentioned how sometimes tests within the class would even be graded incorrectly.
“Our professor did the best she could have for teaching the class,” she said. “While the course, being a conceptual class, required short answer essays, we ended up having to test on scantrons, for the teacher said it would be impossible to get grades in on time.”
Imran Ahmed, a second-year biological sciences major, said that every biology course he has taken at UC Irvine has never had less than 400 students. Ahmed, who is also an education minor, mentioned that some of his education classes have smaller classroom sizes and provide a nice environment for people to learn in. Nevertheless, amongst the burden of struggling with tuition increase, Ahmed still cannot get away from the massive size of biology classes, some of which he mentioned have had their free response portions of exams replaced with scantron exams.
“My family is struggling to pay for me to remain at this school,” Ahmed said. “I have a 30-45 minute commute each way everyday to and from school so that I can save my parents the cost of room and board.”
Professors are doing their best to accommodate students’ needs within the classroom. David Pan, associate professor of German and director of the Humanities Core Course, said that in order to meet budget cut demands, an online lecture section is being developed. However, section sizes for next year will more than likely be raised.
“I do not think that the quality of Humanities Core has necessarily been eroded by online lectures,” Pan said “An increase in average discussion section sizes this year and another increase for next year is having an effect on quality of education.”
Classes for students within the literary journalism program are small and have not yet been capped.
“Since we have mainly writing orientated classes like Literary Journalism 20 and Literary Journalism 21 which are core writing seminars, we fought really hard from the inception of those course to have a relatively low cap,” said Patricia Pierson, the assistant director of the literary journalism program. “We have always maintained that low cap because it would be almost impossible to get students the kind of critiques and lessons necessary for the writing we do.”
Anne Carr, a second-year dance major, who is adding a literary journalism major, has a little of both worlds in the battle of the budget. While literary journalism is safe at the moment, the pending fear for her arts-related major is a constant thought on her mind.
“I know that often when the budget gets tough, arts are the first thing to go,” Carr said. “At this school sometimes the importance of the arts department gets lost and caught in the shadow of a lot of the other departments here. The arts program is really strong, a lot stronger than a lot of people think it is.”
Carr is also a library loan desk worker in the Francisco J. Ayala Science library, and she explained how the library staff had to make decisions on what hours they need to cut in order to still cater to the needs of students. Other than the libraries, many resources around the campus have had run-ins with the chopping block: the Learning and Academic Resource Center (LARC) and the Writing Center have both suffered cuts, and resources such as the Center for Service in Action have been removed.
“I recently learned that the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program will not be making a call for Spring Research Proposals due to a lack of funding,” said Jacob Thomas Redmond, who is a cognitive sciences major, the Research Assistant Coordinator for the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience and a member of the Student Editorial Board for UCI’s Undergraduate Research Journal.
“The UROP offices have been instrumental during my education at UCI, and their funding is vital to insuring that the next generation of researchers are as well-trained and educated as early as possible. I realize all too well that we all must share the burdens of the current funding crisis, but not at the cost of innovation or the next generation of researchers hoping to cure disease.”
Amidst the chaos of crowded classes and lost resources, student groups such as ASUCI are doing what they can to make students aware of the issues on campus and to lend a hand in these dwindling times.
“We’ve been able to offer students opportunities to get involved with state wide politics,” said Patrick Le, executive vice president of ASUCI. “In March we will be having a three-day conference in Sacramento where we take 60 Irvine students up to the capital, along with students from other UC schools, where we will be able to meet with state senators and assembly members and teams of students will be able to sit down with the people who make our laws and pitch our campaigns. The students are really prepared for this and are trained and know what to say. We have a VIP staff as well that can hopefully meet with the governor as well.”
Other opportunities like taking students to Regents meetings to engage in dialogue are offered as well, all to raise action opportunities for students and to give them voice.
Local Government and Community Outreach, a branch of the executive vice president’s office with ASUCI, has done its best to spread awareness to clubs on campus of the issues facing the student population and have also reached out to off-campus organizations to get them on the side of the students when it comes to important things like legislation and bills.
Sophomore and undeclared major Mohammad Yousef, the special projects manager of the branch, personally experienced overcrowding in his psychology class from last year.
“Every single class there would be people sitting on the stairs; if you came late it would be impossible to find a seat,” Yousef said. “I found it to be somewhat degrading and unprofessional. The UCs are supposed to be world class institutions and things like this are going to negatively impact our image.”
Despite the efforts, students are still feeling the heat, some to the point of considering dropping out.
“You see a lot of people leaving the university,” Le said.
“I got to work with a lot of first-years in the dorms at Mesa Court on leadership development and mentorship, and two of the freshmen I used to mentor last year dropped out of college.
One of them is going back home because financial aid is no longer an option.”
The question of what could really be a potential solution to all of this might as well be as up in the air as the tuition hike. From a raise in revenue, to raising taxes, to requirement changes within the school, to reallocating of funds, many options have been proposed by politicians and students alike.
But one thing is for certain; while quality erosion is not happening within every classroom, the issue is becoming more serious, and students must become more aware of what is going on, and those that are already aware must take action.
“The solution is for the state of California to bring in more revenue,” Yousef said.
“It is apparent that legislators will continue to cut higher education as long as California is in this budget crisis. What students can do is push issues that can make this happen.”