Gov. Jim Doyle's 2002-05 budget proposal eliminated about 200-300 courses at the University of Wisconsin in 2003. Students were forced into crammed classrooms far exceeding capacity. Since the proposal was instated, the College of Letters and Science — the largest school on this campus — has cut $4.5 million from its program. Such cuts have reduced the number of faculty and staff positions, increased class size and diminished the overall quality of a UW education.
When the outcry over the budget cuts first surfaced two years ago, students expressed feelings of neglect and anxiety; we were angry about the high cost of education and worried about the impact on our academic lives.
Since then, the noise has subsided. But as a senior, emotional about leaving Madison and embarking on a new stage in life, I think about my academic transcript — a list of unrelated courses chosen for various reasons, ranging from personal interest to core requirements. Long after the budget hoopla, I reflect back on my academic career and the impact of the institutional leaders' decisions about where to cut funds — how has this affected my education? How did these leaders choose which courses to eliminate?
In analyzing the Timetable, the university seemed to miss a few integral steps and accidentally stepped over a string of "slacker classes." Instead of cutting back worthy offerings, mostly upper-level, major-specific courses, the decision-makers should have eradicated the classes attended by the under-achieving students of UW-Madison.
It takes four years at UW to pinpoint the loopholes in the system. Although the university offers an array of meaty courses, it also offers a whole stream of slacker courses, which — if strategically placed in your schedule — can speed up your graduation date and guarantee an abnormally high GPA.
Most freshmen arrive in Madison eager to learn and thus refrain from participating in slacker courses. But each semester, a group of lazy, apathetic students fills up to 75 percent of their schedules with no-sweat classes.
UW-Madison may be a top 10 public institution, but a degree from a well-ranked school is only as impressive as you make it. Post-graduate employers and admissions boards know that majors only require 28 to 40 credit hours. Nobody will respect your 3.98 GPA if your transcript is a laundry list of bullsh-t, such as introductory courses in food science, communicative disorders and "clap for credit."
In interviews with potential employers, how will you explain those introductory, intermediate and advanced medical genetics seminars? An overwhelming number of these pointless classes will detract from even the most promising candidate.
I'll admit it: I, too, have enrolled in airy classes to avoid an intimidating science requirement. The most unintelligible: Medical Genetics 677, a three-credit advanced-level science course that meets on a weekly or sometimes bi-weekly basis, depending on the instructor's schedule. The course requires a group project focused on the dangers of binge-drinking. The sole value: how to intoxicate oneself rapidly. How will my binge-drinking class impact my future in the corporate world? After attending one of these sober bar-time sessions, the university might reconsider its plans to cut a particular class or professor.
Instead of wasting time and credits on light classes, students vexed with large and traditional lecture halls should approach an admirable professor about an independent study. This is your opportunity to work with an incredible scholar on a one-on-one basis to pursue a topic of mutual interest. Despite the negative effect of the budget cuts, this university has a pool of academic wealth waiting to be utilized.
This year, the UW system will draw up a budget plan for 2006. Maybe this time, lawmakers will conduct a more thorough study before taking away invaluable courses and causing detriment to a college education.
Rachel Alkon ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in creative writing.