Sunday, July 15, 1990

Aaron Priven's introduction to the 1990 Course Review

This is most of my introduction to the 1990 Course Review, which can be briefly described as the student guide to classes at UCSC.

I was quite humbled when I submitted it as a sample copyediting assignment with about forty deliberately placed errors, and got back about eighty corrections. Oh well. This is, I believe, quite close to the printed version.

About a year ago, I had the Friday evening shift at the Merrill College Library. One night, about six, a young Berkeley-educated professor came in from the faculty annex next door, complaining that he had been locked out of the building with his keys inside. I told him to call the proctor, which he did, but x2100 was busy. I suggested then that he go tot he Merrill maintenance shop under "B" dorm, to see if someone there had the key. Instead, he picked up the phone and dialed the emergency 911 number. "Hello, this isn't an emergency, but I'm a faculty member and --" The operator hung up. He then went down to "B" dorm, where he found someone who let him in.

I bring this anecdote up here because it symbolizes, to me, the dangers of losing contact between students and faculty. At many universities, everyone fits into their proper place; each rank -- administrator, department chair, full professor, associate professor, assistant professor, lecturer, graduate student, upperclassmen [sic], lowerclassmen [sic] -- has its own privileges, to which those lower in the hierarchy have no claim. (It is sometimes more specific than this; for example, Berkeley's "NL" parking spaces, for Nobel laureates only.) The young professor wasn't really being so egotistical as to think the whole campus would stop just so he could get his car keys; to him, it was natural that it should place more importance on a faculty member's needs than on anyone else's. It made perfect sense in the elitist system in which he was educated. Perhaps "indoctrinated" is a better word.

UCSC has traditionally been an alternative to this kind of heirarchical organization. The reason, of course, wasn't because UCSC's alternative education produces faculty who don't think they're more important than emergencies, although this is definitely a benefit. The reason is because interaction between students and faculty, if not on an equal basis than at least on a basis in which faculty are accessible to students, makes for a much higher quality of education. This is why the college system is here; this is why we traditionally have had small classes. And this is also why the Course Review exists: to provide a forum for interaction between students and instructors, in an effort to improve undergraduate education.

Of course the Course Review can't provide the kind of face-to-face interaction that provides immediate feedback, and it has its other purpose as a student guide to classes. But in an increasingly hierarchical UCSC, it becomes harder and harder to talk to one's instructors. I hope that faculty and students will use the Course Review as a starting point for discussions about their classes and about undergraduate education.

I am spending the '90-91 school year at the University of British Columbia in Canada, as an exchange student. I trust, when I come back for my last year, that UCSC's students and faculty will have convinced the administration to keep shopping for classes; to keep what is left of the college system; to keep small but important programs like Modern Society and Social Thought, Legal Studies, and Creative Writing, that have been threatened; and most important, to let UCSC's traditional lack of hierarchy and overformality continue. UCSC is a special place, in which the ideal that all people should be able to study and learn together has never died. I hope we all can keep it that way.

Praxis of Interior Decoration: Dormitories

I worked on the 1989 and 1990 Course Reviews, the UCSC student guide to classes. The latter year we had some spare time, so we wrote some fake course reviews and put them in the book under the entry "College Zero." This was my contribution. I later wrote a fake narrative evaluation for this course, as if I had been a student in it.

(This was actually a tradition carried forth from an earlier round of Course Reviews -- the book was suspended in 1981 or so and only revived in 1989. "College Zero" refers to the practice of giving UCSC's colleges numbers instead of names, until somebody with big bucks donates money or property to name the college after themselves. The colleges originally were the main academic units and still have some courses under their auspices.)

College Zero

23C (Winter) Praxis of Interior Decoration: Dormitories. P. Ceptor.
enrolled: 23; response; 23; 100%

Respondents, while appreciating the sincerity of the instructor ("Pam's really cool"), generally felt that the material covered did not go beyond the rudiments of the discipline. 52% agreed that "We covered the basics and only the basics." Comments include: "We spent a lot of time on bunk beds vs. separate beds, posters, and about proper replacement for those yucchy dorm chairs -- it was really introductory" and "We didn't go into the advanced stuff: I wanted to learn about moving lounge furniture into the rooms, stacking the desks on other furniture, and walls to separate doubles." However, 9% disagreed: "the section on lofts went over my head."

Forty-six percent mentioned that the required laboratory materials ("Some are born crate, some achieve crateness, and some have crateness thrust upon them") were expensive, but one advised "don't buy them from the bookstore if you can help it; check behind the dining halls." However, 39% felt that the lab work was the best part of the course: "They sure do stack!"

Students suggested that this course would be improved if, in addition to going further into the subject, it would cover proper check-out procedures. One added: "And why is it being offered in Winter? We need it earlier!"