September 22, 2020

YAO | Allow Students More Flexibility in Course Scheduling

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I submitted my time conflict petition the day enrollment opened. Both conflicting classes were major requirements and held online. One of the courses posted asynchronous lecture videos and made live attendance optional. There was no way my petition wouldn’t go through, or so I convinced myself. But, of course, this is 2020. Need I say more?

After a million frantic conversations with about half the faculty and staff in both departments and four separate email chains each a mile long, my petition was rebuffed, appealed and then metaphorically sliced up and set on fire. So it goes. Most people get rejected by their Tinder dates. I get rejected by an Ivy League department chair. We are not the same.

School had already started by the time I received the final word, so I spent that following weekend scrambling for other options. The classes for my backup schedule and the backup for my backup schedule were either full or only had in-person sections remaining. Thus commenced another round of emails –– and another round of denials (apparently you CAN get rejected from a class waitlist, who knew?).

I’m not the only one who had issues with scheduling. A cursory glance on social media reveals horror stories from juniors and seniors locked out of graduation requirements. My international friends write about waking up at three AM to enroll in a single online class, only to meet the dreaded red X upon pressing the “finish enrolling” button.

Online classes should, in theory, provide students with more freedom in scheduling. There are no physical hindrances on class size based on room space. The simple press of a button to exit one virtual meeting and enter another eliminates any mad sprints across the Arts quad to get to class on time. In fact, since most lectures are recorded, even taking two online courses that entirely overlap should pose little problem.

However, rather than empathize with the needs of the student body, Cornell squandered the potential opportunities online classes could have provided. Some schools, such as the School of Hotel Administration, completely forbade enrollment in conflicting classes –– even those with a mere five-minute overlap. Other departments imposed blanket restrictions instead of considering situations on a case-by-case basis. Numerous virtual courses across colleges and departments capped enrollment at lower levels than previous years without reason, shutting out students trying to fulfill major requirements or explore a new avenue of study.

Even the six credit maximum on the first day of enrollment, implemented to ensure that all students could enroll in in-person classes, hurt more students than it helped. For most, six credits equal one class and some change, thereby magnifying the stress that the University sought to alleviate in the first place with this policy. Students were forced to choose between the coveted electives they waited three semesters to add and the graduation requirements they had to take. In an ironic twist, I noticed that as class schedules stabilized during the enrollment period, the in-person sections for many courses tended to carry more openings than the online sections.

Cornell has the ability to make changes for the better, as evidenced when the school increased the maximum total credit limit from 18 to 22 credits. Unfortunately, the University chose to turn a blind eye on many other needs of the student body. The problems I and countless others faced in the days leading up to and continuing into the school year could have been –– and should have been –– mitigated through clearer communication and greater leeway across all departments.

Although it seems ages away, enrollment for spring classes will soon be upon us. In the meantime, the University should start practicing some of the flexibility and compassion it has preached in nearly every school-wide email since March. Otherwise, Cornell will have to change the school motto to: “Any person … A pretty restricted amount of study.”

Katherine Yao is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at kyao@cornellsun.com. Her column, Hello Katie, runs every other Wednesday this semester.