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Specialized Biology Electives to be Offered Rotationally

During registration time in Yeshiva College (YC), some Biology majors were surprised when they saw the upcoming semester’s truncated schedule of classes. Many assumed that these cuts were permanent, and worried about difficulties in creating their schedules for next semester.

The Commentator met with Deans Eichler and Viswanathan to ask about the changes. The initial, fuller schedule that many students saw was meant to be tentative and to be used only by the department heads. That schedule was a rollover of the past spring semester’s offering of classes, and was meant to be the list of classes from which each department would remove classes for budgeting purposes. The second, curtailed schedule was meant to be the students’ official listing of courses for the upcoming 2013 spring semester.

Dean Eichler further explained that the decrease of Biology courses offered each semester is part of the university’s larger budget reduction plan. Yeshiva College previously eliminated the Speech and Physical Education departments, which provide no majors for students, as part of the effort to cope with its financial woes, but further reductions were sought. The Dean’s office met with each department to see how more money could be saved without compromising the quality of education at the university.

After meeting with the Biology department heads, the Dean’s office realized that too many courses were being offered over a spread out period of time, and that the way classes were offered required revision. The first step the Dean’s office took was to place courses in various time slots so as to ensure that there is no conflict in the arrangement of important classes.

The new “grid” will make scheduling different classes easier. Core courses will be offered at specific times so that they won’t conflict with other classes that students have to take. For example, the new core requirement classes are offered at a specific time slot so as not to conflict with First Year Writing classes.

Additionally, instead of offering many sections of the same electives and advanced classes, the Biology department has condensed those classes into just a few sections, and removed specific electives from just this upcoming spring semester. “We realized that if we offer a rotational basis of courses, instead of giving 13 major electives, if you offer approximately 4 or 5 or 6, then that is more than enough,” Dean Eichler explained. “Students need to know that they now have to plan a little better. They have to know that if they plan to take this elective, it is offered every spring, but not in the fall and spring. If it’s an elective that’s highly specialized, maybe it’ll be offered every third semester.”

For advanced electives, the Dean’s office did a study with the department chairs to see how many students take these specialized classes every semester, and how many students still needed to complete these classes. “A couple of electives have been cancelled. We’ve looked at enrollments in all the electives students have been taking for the past three years and we normally offer 8 or 9 electives, and several of them have very low enrollment, some of them less than seven, some of them less than five,” Dean Viswanathan says. Realizing that too many specialized electives were being offered and that students would not be limited by taking them every other semester, the Dean’s office took some electives out of the upcoming semester’s schedule. Accordingly, the reduction of class offerings has resulted in fewer adjunct hires by the university.

Mordechai Smith (YC ’14), president of the Yeshiva University Student Medical Ethics Society and Biology Majors Board, said “they cut out some of the classes, which is concerning... The Biology major is one of the largest majors at YU, if not the largest, and the department has one of the worst students-to-teacher ratios, so it’s stressed as it is. And then you cut out more classes and people are forced into corners, taking classes that they just don’t want to take.” Biology major Aaron Akhavan (YC ’16) expressed similar sentiments. He said, “I’m disappointed that they’re cutting courses out from the Biology department. Now I’m going to have a harder time scheduling, because there aren’t enough spots and classes.”

With the economic difficulties facing the institution, the Dean’s office has unfortunately been forced to make and execute tough decisions to keep YC’s course offerings up to its high standards. Although students will now be faced with the task of creating schedules from a more limited selection of courses, they shouldn’t be alarmed.

“We are not eliminating courses; we are just reducing the frequency at which they are offered,” Dean Eichler said. “I don’t think students are academically going to lose out. It just means that departments can’t offer the same schedule they did last year.”