Shut out at Dartmouth

Jennifer Bandy is a senior at Dartmouth College and a co-author of the Dartblog. I met Jennifer this summer in Washington where, if I recall correctly, she was interning at the State Department. She is the kind of bright, accomplished, and personable individual that makes you proud she attends your alma mater.

Jennifer has posted an important piece on the Dartblog describing, and suggesting remedies for, a serious problem at Dartmouth — class “shut-outs.” She notes:

Each term the waiting list for each government class can be as high as thirty or forty students. Interested and motivated freshmen must bide their time filling distributive requirements rather than immediately delving into material that interests them. Surely this has deleterious effects on their ability to later take time for thesis and research projects as they rush to finish the major they were not able to begin till sophomore year.

Nor is the problem confined to the government department. Jennifer also cites the economics department, and I understand that shut-outs are not uncommon in the history and english departments, as well.

The problem isn’t a new one either. My daughter heard about it (from a government professor) when she visited the college in April 2006. And Jennifer confirms that it was an issue when she arrived as a freshman that same academic year. Unfortunately, Jennifer reports seeing “little or no progress” since then.

Dartmouth thus faces this question: is the number of classes to be expanded by the hiring of brilliant new faculty or are the departments to be transformed into the university model of large lecture halls and smaller groups run by teaching assistants?

Only one answer is consistent with the Dartmouth tradition of a focus on teaching and close interaction with professors. But things do not seem to be heading in a direction consistent with that tradition.

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