April 22, 2005

S.A. Urges Class Size Cut

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Every student who has been frustrated with Cornell’s slide down the annual U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges rankings may soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief and begin to have hope for a more lofty rank. Yesterday, at its weekly Thursday meeting, the Student Assembly voted unanimously to pass a resolution brought forth by the Image Committee to reduce class size at Cornell. The resolution will now be submitted to President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 and the rest of Cornell’s administration for consideration.

Class size is one of the largest criteria used to calculate a school’s “score” in the U.S. News rankings system. It is this area that many believe is not only Cornell’s largest downfall but also one that is most readily amendable.

“There is no component of the U.S. News & World Report ranking that will effect our ranking more than the class size,” said Peter S. Cohl ’05, co-chair of the Image Committee.

Heather Grantham ’06, co-chair of the Image Committee and Sun columnist, elaborated on the weight the class size category has on a school’s overall score.

“Class size itself is eight of the 100 points in the U.S. News point system,” Grantham said. “This isn’t counting other categories that are affected by class size.”

Two other categories used to calculate the score are affected by the class size statistic.

Cornell ranks dead last out of the top 25 ranked schools in its proportion of classes with less than 20 students. Of the 129 national universities polled by U.S. News, Cornell ranks 123rd in classes with over 50 students.

While students are concerned with their image through the rankings, many believe smaller classes will also benefit the quality of instruction and the total undergraduate experience. “This isn’t just a ranking issue — it’s a quality of student life issue as well,” Grantham explained.

While there are many benefits to smaller classes, many classes benefit from their magnitude to help create a special atmosphere. For example, Prof. James Maas’ famous Psychology 101 class is one of the largest and most popular classes nationwide as it enrolls over 800 students per session. It is accepted by the students that these great classes taught by star professors will remain.

“There are certain classes in which the larger size is the essence of the class,” said Daniel Cohen grad, co-chair of the Image Committee. “We should instead be breaking up the unnecessarily large classes where the largeness doesn’t add anything to the course.”

By decreasing the class size and boosting Cornell’s rankings, the Image Committee hopes that the amount of alumni donations along with the percentage of alumni that donate will increase. Smaller class sizes will theoretically provide students with a more satisfactory undergraduate experience as they get to know professors better, get more individual attention and have more opportunities to excel.

“Current students upon graduation will have had a better experience,” Cohen said. “They will therefore donate at a higher rate.”

This increase in funds will allow Cornell the finances to hire even more prestigious professors, build better facilities and better many aspects that will ultimately result in moving Cornell up the ranking charts.

However, according to the Image committee, Cornell’s current financial situation should not prevent the hiring or recruitment of more professors.

“We are an enormous university with an enormous budget and if schools like Kansas are ranked higher than us in class size there’s just no excuse,” Grantham said. “We’re looking at around 15 million dollars, as just a guess, to solve this problem – but this is not a large portion of [Cornell’s] budget at all.”

Minority students and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are experiencing the most significant negative effects of the larger classes, according to a recent study from the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. Since these students are more likely to come from high schools that don’t offer as many Advanced Placement courses, they don’t have the credit to place out of these large introductory classes.

“People who come from inner city schools have to compete with private school kids who took A.P. courses,” said S.A. representative Funmi Ojetayo ’08. “Inherently there is a disadvantage.”

In addition, students hope that the number of minority professors at Cornell will increase if the administration does in fact decide to hire more faculty.

“We rank very low in minority faculty members,” Ojetayo said. “If Cornell wants to live up to its creed of ‘Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds’ then it should take action.”

The resolution, which was signed by over 50 students, will be submitted to the Cornell administration for consideration.

In addition, after the S.A. meeting adjourned, a second meeting in which the S.A. elected next year’s executive board occurred. This meeting was closed to the public. Results for the elections are as follows: President: Tim Lim ’06; Executive Vice President: Melissa Kiedrowicz ’06; Internal Operations: Calvin Selth ’07; Vice President of Finance: Michelle Fernandes ’06; Vice President of Public Relations: David Beane ’07; and Director of Elections: Josh Katcher ’06.

Archived article by Carl Menzel
Sun Staff Writer