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Students say no to drop limit, create proposal

By Anita Alem     9/3/14 2:34pm

Duncan College Senator Louis Lesser, Duncan President Mary Anderson and University Court Chair Brian Baran introduced their legislation against the Center for Undergraduate Curriculum’s proposed drop limit at the Student Association Senate meeting on August 27.

According to Anderson, Baran and Lesser, all of whom are Duncan seniors, their resolution advocates the rejection of the CUC proposal because they believe it does not solve the problems that it purports to solve.

“We realize the CUC and Faculty Senate have good intentions in trying to solve a campus-wide problem, and that the CUC add/drop proposal is the CUC’s initial approach to solving registration woes,” Anderson said. “We hope our resolution will open a greater dialogue between the student body and the Faculty Senate to create a better option than the one that has been currently proposed.”

SA External Vice President Amritha Kanakamedala served on the University Standing Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum, a CUC subcommittee that dealt with the add/drop policy. In spring 2014, a CUC survey, which Kanakamedala helped create, received input from 47.1 percent of undergraduates and found that 62 percent of students would support an add/drop system in which students would have a set number of late drops available, similar to the current pass/fail system. Due to these findings, the CUC proposed moving the add/drop deadline and changing the system so the drop deadline would be at week two, with a transition period over the weekend for students to finalize their class schedules — including all add/drops. The proposal states students would be able to drop a total of four classes after the week two deadline, assuming they have four years at Rice, without any repercussion; any further late drops in one’s Rice career would receive a “Withdrawal” on the transcript.

“The changes to the add/drop policy were proposed in order to take advantage of unfilled seats in classes,” Kanakamedala said. “With the drop deadline currently being in week seven of the school year, there are a number of seats in highly popular classes that are not being filled to their fullest capacity. Courses are often in high demand during registration, but halfway through the school year, these courses are not at full capacity. The administration wants to limit these unused seats and increase efficiency.”

According to Anderson, Baran and Lesser, the issue the CUC seeks to resolve can be split into two parts: broad and narrow. The former consists of the issues students face when trying to sign up for a course, while the latter is a result of students staying enrolled in courses they plan to drop after the second week add deadline. Baran said the current proposal is too overinclusive to address the narrow problem because it would penalize students even if they were enrolled in a class that was not full at the add deadline, despite such an act not negatively impacting individuals who were trying to take the course.

“A good solution would only apply to courses that were full at the add deadline and to students who don’t have extenuating circumstances explaining why they dropped the course,” Baran said. “There’s a meaningful difference between students who get sick and have to drop a course and those who go into a semester planning to take six classes and to drop their least favorite. A narrowly tailored solution discourages the latter but doesn’t penalize the former.”

According to the legislation, supporters of the CUC proposal suggested the changes would improve the quality of Rice transcripts, which allegedly lag behind those of peer institutions because of the flexibility of our add/drop system.

Anderson, Baran and Lesser said the comparison to peer institutions is unnecessary to create a solution for the issues students are currently facing.

“In this case, the peer institution argument doesn’t even apply — peer institutions have approached add/drop policies in a lot of different ways, and a lot of them are similar to Rice’s,” Lesser said. “According to CUC Chair Susan McIntosh, Cornell, Harvard and Princeton all have drop deadlines between weeks five and nine.”

Anderson said she does not agree with the way parallels are drawn between the pass/fail system and the CUC add/drop proposal.

“The pass/fail system has completely different deadlines and an opportunity to remove the pass/fail to a letter grade,” Anderson said. “Most importantly, the pass/fail structure illustrates a method for students to have a greater voice on their transcripts, rather than having an automatic ‘Withdrawal’ stamped onto their records.”

In order to solve the broad problem of trouble with signing up for courses, Anderson, Baran and Lesser said they suggest the administration look into the availability of courses and sections and consider whether availability has expanded along with the size of the student body. Adjusting the drop policy could only provide a solution to the narrow problem, according to Lesser.

“We would really like to see students discuss this in more detail to come up with a widely agreeable disincentive to taking more courses than you plan to complete that doesn’t also disincentivize broadening your horizons, taking risks and trying new things, which are all benefits of the current add/drop system,” Lesser said.

The CUC can only propose changes, after which the Faculty Senate must discuss and vote on the proposal. According to Kanakamedala, the Faculty Senate has not included this proposal on their September agenda. Lesser said he encouraged the SA Senate not to table the legislation because the Faculty Senate has tabled the proposal.

“The SA straw poll last week indicated unanimous agreement that the CUC proposal should be rejected,” Lesser said. “We think it’s important for the SA to formally state the opinion of the student body on this issue; if the Faculty Senate later revives the proposal, it will ensure students are heard by the faculty from the start, even if those of us who have worked on this have graduated.”

Sid Richardson College President Nick Cornell said he sees the tabling of the CUC proposal positively because it shows the faculty has a genuine interest in working with students to solve a common problem. Cornell, a senior, said he would prefer a disincentivizing method other than placing a negative transcript mark for excessive drops after the week two drop deadline.

“We do need to discourage people from dropping frivolously, though, and perhaps [encourage students] to put more thought into [adding] their courses up front,” Cornell said. “A process where students have to get a special form from the Registrar, meet with the professor of the course they want to drop to chat and get a signature, and then return to the Registrar might be sufficiently inconvenient.”

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