By Keith Dobson
Editor, the Gauntlet,
We would like to thank the Gauntlet for bringing attention to the issues of class size and class availability at the University (“The struggle between class size and availability,” Christian Louden, Jan. 31 Gauntlet). Psychology courses are among the most popular on campus and the demand for our courses far exceeds our instructional capacity. It may surprise readers to know that the department of psychology is no larger than it was when the university first opened in 1966, despite the large growth of the campus overall. As a result, our department is acutely aware of the tradeoffs between class size, class availability, and the quality of the course experience.
While we welcome any attention to this dilemma, the article contained a serious error that we must bring to your attention. Dr. Kline stated that the department of psychology requires its majors to complete Psychology 369, yet it did not provide enough seats for students to register in this course in the winter session of 2008 (i.e., according to Dr. Kline, “I don’t think it’s fair to have a class that we tell students they should probably take as a core class and then we don’t let them. It doesn’t make sense”). This sentence is misleading, since Psychology 369 is not required of every psychology student. Further, we always ensure enough seats in Psychology 369 to accommodate psychology majors, and every psychology major who wanted to take this course was already registered before Dr. Kline requested to overload the course. Indeed, of the original class of 120 students there were 41 psychology majors, all of whom had registered well before the add/drop date. The remaining students in the class, including the 20 additional students who were overloaded into the class, are taking the course as a non-required elective. Thus, contrary to the impression conveyed in the article, it was not necessary for Dr. Kline to overload Psychology 369 in order to provide seats for students who required this course. The department of psychology is committed to ensuring that all of its students are always able to register in the courses they require for their degree and would never knowingly create a situation like Dr. Kline describes.
We were also quite puzzled by the impression given in the article that it was necessary for Dr. Kline to fight to overload his course by 20 seats (i.e., “One professor fought to make his class just a little bigger”) and that his request was “met with controversy.” Although there was some discussion about the request in the department and while the implications of overloading this course for other courses was considered, there was really no fight or controversy in this matter. Rather, Dr. Kline’s request to overload Psychology 369 was granted by the department expeditiously and without argument, particularly since the room that the course takes place in could accommodate the increase.
Contrary to the opinion that class size is not very important, our sense is that students see things very differently. A recent survey of Psychology students shows that they think psychology classes are especially large. This perception is not unfounded, as we know that 90 per cent of 300-level classes in the faculty of social sciences are smaller than Psychology 369. Large classes are a continuing concern at the university and the university administration and the Students’ Union are committed to addressing this problem. The department of Psychology shares in these concerns. We make every effort to balance competing demands: to ensure that psychology majors have access to required courses, to accommodate the interests of students who seek psychology electives and to keep class sizes at reasonable levels to ensure the highest possible quality of instruction.