Every semester, a handful of professors go on leave for academic and personal reasons. Since this is a regular occurrence, the College needs to plan ahead more proficiently, anticipating and providing for significant gaps in department staffing. As an institution that prides itself in allowing students to develop their own curriculum and tailor a major specific to their interests, Grinnell has failed to provide the options or accommodations to make that an easy task. The College needs to be more conscious about the variety and availability of courses that students are offered each semester and how department schedules play out over the course of a student’s four-year career.
In order for students to be able to accurately plan and make the most of their academic experience at Grinnell, there needs to be better communication within academic departments and between advisors and students regarding course offerings. Every semester, some students struggle to plan their course schedules due to inconsistencies in course offerings and professors on leave. There are many required classes that are not planned more than a year in advance by the department, which can make it difficult for students to coordinate a double major or concentration.
This semester alone, there are 32 professors on leave, 26 of whom are on sabbaticals or leaves to support faculty scholarship. Some of the affected departments include Anthropology, Biology, Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies (GWSS), Spanish, Theatre and Dance, Linguistics and Global Development Studies.
Although each department only has between one and four professors on leave, these absences can have more drastic effects for smaller departments and interdisciplinary concentrations. In smaller departments where only one professor can teach a special topic class related to their academic specialization, those classes cannot be offered. Even with just one fewer professor per department, there aren’t enough professors to offer required courses for that major or concentration. Missing one required course for one semester not only affects the student’s semester schedule but also impacts four-year plans and proceeding semesters. In some rare cases, students must drop that major or concentration due to a lack of options. A lack of courses offered should not be the main reason students feel the need to drop a major or concentration.
Concentrations in general suffer more from professors being on leave because of their smaller size and more narrow curriculum of required courses. Many semesters, concentrators only have one class option to fulfill a requirement, which gives students less leeway in what they want to and ultimately choose to take.
In both the Linguistics and Global Development Studies departments, there are no classes being offered this semester, not even the introduction courses for either department. To improve issues like this, the College should include a more comprehensive schedule of what required major and concentration courses will be available within several future semesters, instead of just listing the general curriculum for each department with every possible course.
While there can inevitably be certain unforeseen circumstances in scheduling, the College should aim to inform students of issues in a timely and accessible manner so that they can re-evaluate plans with their advisors. At the beginning of this semester, there were no 200-level GWSS courses listed because the College had yet to finalize courses with two newly hired professors. Once the positions were confirmed, students who wanted to enroll in these new classes were only able to through the add/drop process. Students should be informed in advance by their advisors of situations like these, and the information should be made available on PioneerWeb or the WebAdvisor application prior to the course catalog being published. Additionally, the Spanish department is only offering one seminar course for majors this semester.
Communication between advisors and students is often inconsistent across departments, and even among faculty members. There should be specific policies instituted and enforced throughout all the College departments regarding communication with students about semester absences and potential difficulties with fulfilling major requirements or previously established four-year plans. More planning, effort and communication is required on the College’s behalf to ensure that students have sufficient opportunities to create a personal curriculum that falls in line with their academic interests.
By developing better communication between the College, individual departments and students, Grinnell can better live up to the exceptional advising system that it boasts to incoming and prospective students.