Sunday, November 19, 2006

Woo-Hoo! Enrollment Worries Over!

I think I may have written about this before - I've had some... challenges... in terms of making enrollment in my upper-level classes since I began my job at this university. It's never been a big deal in terms of how my performance in this job has been evaluated, in part because of a certain culture of inertia about How Things Are Done here. When I've expressed concern to my senior colleagues about this little problem, they've said some version of the following:

1) Students here choose courses based on the instructor, not on the material. Since you're "new," you're going to have some trouble.
2) Students are afraid of your specialization.

There have also been hints that part of the problem is that students react negatively to "feminism" and that this might cause some of the problem.

In no way have any of my senior colleagues suggested that I should change what I do to address the problem. Rather, they've suggested that with the slow passage of time that the problem would just resolve itself. (We can talk about the ways in which that attitude is kind of screwed up - I mean, isn't there a problem when students choose courses with no regard to their own intellectual curiosity? Isn't there a problem with a status quo that makes it difficult for junior faculty, particularly female junior faculty, to do what they were hired to do? I'd say yes, but that's not actually the point of this post.)

The point is that for the first time EVER I've managed early in the pre-registration period to make the college-wide enrollment minimum for an upper-level course without it being in the "danger-zone" in which the chair has to "fight" for the course not to be cancelled.

I think this has to do with a number of things, few of which actually having to do with me.

1. The department took a hard look at its scheduling of upper-level classes last year, and came up with a (somewhat) rational schedule that takes into account providing a range of offerings at a range of times of day.

2. We had our first-ever advising meeting for majors, and so a lot of students who did not know me got a chance to see what I'm like. In a campus culture in which Personality reigns, this was a good forum for me.

3. The slow passage of time is working in my favor. Word has gotten out that I don't suck. For whatever reason.

But now that means I can really get excited about the course, even though I'm also a little anxious about it. I've taught a version of this course before, but I've significantly revamped it, and so I'm not sure about the rhythm of the readings that I've chosen. I think it will be good, but I also wonder whether I'm being overly ambitious in my expectations for them. Also, I've been thinking hard about how I can tweak a presentation assignment that I've done in my past couple of upper-level classes in order to fit the content of this particular course. What I've done in the past may not work for this course, though I think that the assignment is really valuable. I'll need to think more on this. I'm also a little anxious about the dynamic of the class. Only two students enrolled have had me before - the others are a completely unknown quantity. Of the two that I know, I'm not entirely sure how forcefully or positively they'll affect the class dynamic, and this class does to some extent depend on us hitting the ground running, and since I don't know most of the students, I'm not sure whether that's a realistic expectation.

Then there's also the problem (note: this is where I put the cart before the horse and cross a bridge long before it is even on the horizon) of whether this class can work if for some unforseen reason I need to cancel a class or two unexpectedly. Say, if I were to get a campus visit. Or something. I *never* cancel my lit classes. And when I cancel my comp classes, it's always already on the course schedule from the beginning. I'm not sure whether it's a positive thing, but I'm the sort of professor that follows the syllabus to. the. letter. I hate getting off schedule. And I hate veering from The Plan. And so I have a problem with the idea - however ephemeral at this point - that I may need to make decisions that would take me - and the class as a whole - off of the carefully crafted schedule. Whatever my professional ambitions are, I really don't want to short-change my students, you know? But again, this is putting the cart WAY before the horse, so I suppose I shouldn't fret over it, at least until it's clear whether I get an MLA interview someplace.

But then this leads to another cart WAY before the horse thing that's been giving me pause. I feel a lot of ambivalence about the prospect of potentially (however remote the prospect is) of moving on from this place. My department has been one in transition. On the one hand, there is The Way Things Have Always Been Done group of faculty, and this group has one way of doing things that stretches back to before we had admissions standards and to before there was a community college that was feeding students into our university. On the other, there is The New Guard group of faculty, most of whom have been hired within the past five years, who tend to do things differently from the other group. I'm part of that New Guard. That New Guard is really important to the direction of the department and to the direction of the university, but more significantly, The New Guard is really important to students. (I'm not saying that The Way Things Have Always Been Done group isn't important to students, but sometimes this group is less in touch with some aspects of the discipline generally and with the profession specifically, and their expectations for students can reflect that.) On the one hand, this transition is exciting. It means that I really have a central role in shaping the direction of my department. On the other, I hate it. Part of me would rather be in a department where there wasn't such a gap between the expectations of one group of faculty and the expectations of another.

I really do feel that the work that I do here has particular and specific value. I'm not sure whether anything that I could do at another university would have the same kind of value. Yes, I would be able to devote more of my energy to research. At the same time, I would also continue to invest energy in teaching. It seems like a win-win, right? But would I be able to teach the kinds of students whom I teach here? Would I be able to have the kind of impact on another group of students that I have on this one? And let's say that I do devote more energy to research - would that be energy well spent? Will my research really make any difference in the world in the way that teaching these particular students does? What will it mean to me to make such a change? And will it mean something positive?

Obviously, a change in institutional culture is not the only reason that I decided to go on the market. There are things about my life here that I wish were different, and I do think that they could be different more easily if I were to move on from this place. But I wonder whether the benefits of that would outweigh the consequences related to what I would necessarily give up?

But for now I'm just happy that my class is safe for the spring. Really, I can't project beyond that in any sort of a sensible way at this point. So I should just stop. I should bask in having reached the magic number of minimum enrollment and leave all of this other musing to a time when I actually have something concrete about which to muse.


Anonymous said...

I recently found out that my questionable-enrollment course for the Spring has made enrollment, too. It's a nice feeling.

Anonymous said...

This is actually something I'm pretty worried about at the moment--so far, I have exactly ONE student signed up for my 400/500-level course. The regular registration period has only just begun for undergrads--and the M.A.-student period hasn't yet started--but pre-registration for English majors and minors is already over.

It's true that most 400-level courses still have enrollment numbers hovering around 5, so I'm guessing they must typically increase later on. . . but it's hard not to notice that I have fewer students than anyone else!