Columns, Opinions

Campbell ’18: Left in the cold

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, February 8, 2017

When I first heard that Brown was introducing Wintersession, I could not wait to enroll. I carefully factored the time difference from my program abroad and skipped a communal dinner to ensure I could be one of the first to register. It seemed like a wonderful chance to return to Brown early, take one of many very appealing courses and hopefully further my progress in my concentration. Unfortunately, due to disorganization within the program and a lack of communication between Wintersession administrators and department faculty, I was forced to forego the opportunity.

On its Wintersession website, Brown promotes the program as not only a venue to take particularly unique or specialized courses, but also to “spread out coursework throughout the year or earn the additional credit.” This is reflected in the courses offered in this inaugural session: While the three “destination” courses certainly offered a unique opportunity that is difficult to take during the normal semester, the six on-campus courses and one online course were hardly differentiable from typical classes. With one course, CLPS 1292: “Introduction to Programming for the Mind, Brain and Behavior,” that was pitched as an “introduction to MATLAB,” it seemed clear that Brown intended for some students to utilize their Wintersession, as many students do during their summer one, to further their degree or fill gaps in their required study.

This (after being denied registration to a destination course) was my plan. I wanted to attend Wintersession not only to return to Brown early, but also to earn a concentration credit, hopefully easing the density of requirements I would need in my final three semesters. But first, I needed to confirm with my concentration advisor that the Wintersession course satisfied a requirement with my concentration. All I needed for this was the syllabus.

But after two months and emails — ultimately becoming a daily routine — to many different professors, advisors and administrators, I had yet to receive even a draft of the syllabus. In the meantime, I received my aid award and my account was billed. I even confirmed my early housing with the Office of Residential Life. Yet as the payment deadline approached, I still had no indication whether this course would serve my needs. I was given no information that would help me analyze whether the investment of multiple thousands of dollars and a month of my time would do anything to further my degree. I was told that unless I was willing to take the class for fun alone, I should drop it.

While I enjoy the academic inquiry, personal development and general appeal of taking “fun” classes as much as anyone else, I found that these reasons alone did not warrant attending Wintersession. How could I justify spending thousands of dollars to travel across the country on a course taken purely for its own sake? After all, we are all here with one ultimate purpose: to obtain a degree. While I would count myself a proponent of the myriad other benefits of college, it is absurd to pretend that attendance would be worthwhile for these reasons alone. I can understand that many students might want to attend Wintersession for some of these reasons, but it should not be ridiculous to want more concrete benefits.

To be clear, I do not fault the professor, nor my advisors nor anyone else that helped me in my attempt to take this course. They were simply doing their job: preparing a course to be finalized before the first day of class. Especially given that many courses were being taught for the first time, it is entirely reasonable for instructors to have created the course near the end of the fall semester.

But students should not be asked to make a huge commitment with limited information on each course. Given that Brown pitched filling requirements as a reason to attend Wintersession, the administration should have taken more care to work with departments to ensure it was feasible. It should be immediately clear that the nature of Wintersession — and the limited course offerings — differed from that of the regular academic year and rendered shopping impossible. Because of this, the structure of Wintersession should have been held to a higher standard than the fall, spring or summer sessions, and students should have been given as much information about available courses as possible. With the amount of discussion and planning that went into Wintersession, it is unfortunate that the implementation fell short.

Given the heightened commitment of attending Wintersession (the extra time, money and effort that is put in by students), Brown should have ensured that these courses ran smoothly for all interested students. Since this was the inaugural Wintersession, one would have thought that Brown would have taken the utmost care to ensure everything went off without a hitch. I cannot blame the professors for not going above and beyond to be ahead of schedule, but with only 10 courses to plan, Brown should have required a more defined proposal on a timeline better suited to students’ needs.

Vaughn Campbell ’18 can be reached at  vaughn_campbell@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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