Have we reached critical mass?

Last week’s hallways were packed as students rushed for classes. What are some solutions to the traffic jams? Jake Buntjer/UVU Review

Classrooms, parking lots and hallways are congested, adding to the stress of going to school.

Susannah Woodbury was a Wolverine for only one day.

“The sensory overload is too crazy,” she said of her first day on campus. “There’s just too many people. And there’s, like, forty thousand students and, like, three thousand parking stalls.”

Unable to even register for classes due to waitlists, Susannah Woodbury actually withdrew and has started looking into enrolling at the University of Utah.

Her solution may be a little drastic for some beginning freshmen. Then again, it’s doubtful that most new students recall memories of last week with any increased fondness for this campus – and it’s less likely that these students even have memories of a time when the hallways were less crowded.

The problem is not that there are too many students – or not just that, anyway.

Perhaps waitlists are the problem, then? Some professors and administrators may find waitlists beneficial, but it has so far been perilously less than beneficial for many students.

This is particularly true for students who are already so far along in their majors that there are a limited number of classes still required. When those classes fill and simply adding is no longer an option, they are prevented from even getting financial aid. For some students – especially international students – who have on-campus jobs that require you to be a full-time student, this threatens both your job and your education. Forget about the money you paid for a parking permit, which increasingly looks more like a lottery ticket for a false car freshener.

But while waitlists are definitely causing unfair amounts of semester start stress, it’s not the real root of the overpopulation evil.

No, the real problem is faculty. There are simply not enough sections (hence, in part, the waitlists) because there are not enough faculty and staff per student need. There has been precious little hiring of new faculty to accommodate the rapidly growing number of students.

In addition to parking and trouble with financial aid, the dearth of professors available to teach classes is directly affecting student tardiness and student stress.

According to Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Mohammed El-Saidi, sixty-five new faculty were hired this semester. Although all but twenty-four of them were lecturers, they were in a wide variety of departments, and that is a higher number of new faculty since last school year (twenty-five were hired for 2009-2010).

“If we could, we’d hire five hundred new faculty,” said El-Saidi, “but because of the economic conditions throughout the state, we are limited to the funding the state gives us.”

If the state can’t increase funding, and the university doesn’t figure out how to budget the money to find and hire more professors, then maybe there’s only one other solution: We need to reconsider our open admissions policy.

Yes, open admissions are, in part, what makes coming here unique. For example, because you can take either the ACT or the Compass Test, so long as one or the other places you in certain lower level classes, anyone with a high school education or GED has an opportunity for higher learning. But it’s time to start asking if part of our problem is that nearly universal opportunity, which increases enrollment sometimes unpredictably.

Whatever can be done, students need to remember safety, courtesy and respect in the parking lots and halls. But President Holland and campus heads need to find some solutions to the “overpopulation” – and fast. As the jam-packed mornings of last week proved, Susannah Woodbury’s “sensory overload” could bear out a precarious trend; soon, we could all become as rapacious for our necessary courses as commuters looking for parking spots in the free lot.

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