Cancelled classes worry students, faculty

MCCC student, Daniel Kowalczyk experienced the effects when his history class was cancelled just a few days before it was supposed to start.

“I had no time, really, to get another class,” Kowalczyk said. “So instead of doing a full four classes, like I intended, I’m only doing three.”

If he did get into another class, he would’ve had to rush to enroll in it, and that doesn’t include preparing for it or purchasing the materials, he said.

Cancellations can pose a problem for faculty members as well.

“When classes are cancelled the person must then find a class to replace the cancelled class,” said Carrie Nartker, associate professor of English.

“The new class may or may not fit into the same slot as the cancelled class; most often it does not.”  

Professors have to go through the list of classes and pick one that’s taught by an adjunct faculty member and “take” the class, she said.

For an adjunct, sometimes it’s a roll of the dice whether a class they get has low enrollment and may have to be cancelled, said Grace Yackee, MCCC vice president of Instruction.

MCCC is contractually obligated to fill the full-time faculty members’ schedules; adjunct faculty get whatever they can get, she said.

Most people don’t understand the criteria that are involved “behind-the-scenes” when making the decision on whether to cancel a course, Yackee said.

It’s not as simple as going out and picking classes to cancel, she said.

“Keep in mind, class-cancellations is anecdotal,” she said. “It’s like a puzzle.”

“After you load the full-time faculty with the maximum,” she said, “faculty can also teach extra-contractual.”

Extra-contractual is anything above and beyond their mandated, contractual hours and salary, she added.

“It’s not required, it’s voluntary, and those vary,” Yackee said. “Faculty has first choice up to one.”   

The college is only contractually obligated to offer one, but that also varies on whether adjuncts are available and so on, she said.

“Once you get that taken care of, what the deans will typically do is they’ll go out to the adjunct faculty,” Yackee said.

“And same thing with full-time faculty; you may not know if you’ll have an extra-contractual.”

The amount of preparation that’s often done for a class can be futile if it gets cancelled, Nartker said.

“We have likely read books and articles and put together a syllabus for the upcoming semester,” she explained. “It’s a lot of time wasted.”

Mark Bergmooser, Assistant Professor of Speech and Tae Kwon Do, said that when a class gets cancelled, it can create challenges for the instructor.

“Faculty often prepare for their classes weeks or months in advance, so when a class is cancelled, it can be frustrating,” Bergmooser said.

The professor may have planned an assignment that occurs around a particular time of year or semester, so if a class is cancelled, that assignment may not be relevant the next semester, he said.

Sometimes classes are cancelled before the faculty is notified, Bergmooser said. As far as classes being cancelled too soon, he said he’s seen it work both ways.

“Back when we waited until a few days before the class began, I’ve had classes with low enrollment gain five to ten students overnight,” said Bergmooser. “But, I’ve also seen it work where no one adds to the class.”

He said that cancelling classes six to seven weeks before they begin seems a bit extreme.

“Faculty know how the system works and usually have an idea their class is in jeopardy and make alternate plans, so waiting to cancel a class doesn’t usually put a teacher behind,” Bergmooser said.

As any new semester approaches, the college is faced with tough decisions. A full-time faculty member gets paid no matter what; an adjunct, on the other hand, is a different story.

“So, as you’re coming up on a semester and classes are cancelling, we don’t look at it as, is this class taught by an adjunct or is it taught by and extra-contractual, Yackee said.

“There are multiple computations; if it’s an upper level, and they (students) need it for graduation, nine times out of ten it’ll run,” she said.

If a faculty member already has a full load of students – considered 125 to 150 – then it’s more likely another class with only eight students would be allowed, Yackee said.

Anything under ten falls under significant scrutiny, she said, but it isn’t the only factor.

“Our developmental reading and writing, even if it’s low enrolled, I run them,” Yackee said. “Because, students who may not be having a successful semester, or may need to fall back into a developmental course, I’ll try to run it.”

Yackee said she also considers a number of other issues.

For example, are there four other sections students can choose from, compared to the only section? How far are we into the semester? Do students have any other options to find another class? Do students need it for graduation? Is it already part of a faculty load? Is it taught by an adjunct faculty, etc., she said.

“It’s important that people understand, there is a lot of different scenarios that factor in before a class is cancelled or not,” Yackee said.

The state can flag the college for an audit if a class is run with fewer than ten students, she said.

“However, with budget the way it is, I’m looking at efficiency all the time,” Yackee said. “And I will certainly tell you that students are looked at first.”

With decreases in enrollment, adjuncts may get only offered, for example, two instead of three classes as a way to offset the likelihood of having a class getting cancelled, she said.

“Although, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re guaranteed not to have a class get cancelled,” said Yackee. “That is just a reality.”

As a former adjunct faculty professor for many years, Yackee understands this impact.

What typically ends up happening more frequently is the college will end up with fewer adjuncts with fuller loads.

“You don’t have as many adjuncts with little loads,” she said.

MCCC just placed second out of 60 community colleges in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana at ensuring student success, according to statistics from CNN Money.

But despite the award, enrollment is suffering and that affects class cancellations.

“Enrollment is down, mainly due to the economy,” said new MCCC president, Dr. Kojo Quartey. “The economy is getting better, so individuals are going back to work.”

Enrollment and retention of students has a lot to do with class-cancellations, Quartey said. He added that the college has big plans to do some things about the enrollment decline.

“We are going to turn around,” he said. “I’m not saying we want to, I am saying we are.”

People are wondering how we are going to do that and the answer is called an enrollment management plan, he said.

“The college is going to take a very comprehensive look at recruitment, marketing, and retention, all the way through to completion for our students,” he said.

One way that MCCC is going to do that is by highlighting the college’s points of pride, Quartey said.

Among the college’s points of pride, are a 96 percent passing rate for nursing; MCCC professor Charles Kelly has written a textbook that is used today at the University of Michigan; and MCCC is ranked second in the region for student success.

Quarty’s mantra is that everyone should be a recruiter for this institution.

“This story needs to be told,” Quartey said. “I’m going to stand on the highest mountain and yell it; I’m going to yell it to my friends, I’m going to yell it to my enemies.”