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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

J-Term should be an opportunity, not a scarcity

According to an article published in the previous issue of The Campus, during J-Term registration, about 963 upperclassmen not involved in independent work attempted to register for 875 available seats in J-Term classes. While these numbers are striking, they don’t convey the full impact of what it was like to be one of those upperclassmen. It was chaotic, stressful and disappointing. 

Not only was the J-Term registration process deeply frustrating and contradictory to the entire exploratory purpose of J-Term, it also represents the latest example of how Middlebury has failed to dedicate adequate resources to support the students, staff and faculty of its over-enrolled campus. 

Per usual, first-years and sophomores registered before upperclassmen. Ahead of registration day, I prepared beyond what I would for a normal semester — I made the maximum amount of plans (preprogrammed schedules) on Banner9 that I could, and I had additional back-up options written down if needed. Knowing that many classes would fill up before I got a chance to register, I had emailed professors before even underclassmen had registered, hoping to get a good spot on some waitlists — because usually it is possible to get off the waitlist if you are proactive and enthusiastic. 

When it came time to register, I woke up thirty minutes in advance to make sure that my computer was charged and well connected to the internet. When registration opened at 7 a.m. and I tried to enter courses into my Banner9, I was logged out more than five times. Frantically troubleshooting, I did not get the chance to enter in one of my plans until exactly 7:13. In less than fifteen minutes, every single one of my planned and backup courses filled up. Finally, I pulled up the course catalog and started entering random CRNs into the system, hoping to find an open class. 

I eventually found one, but later that day, realizing that I already dreaded taking the course, decided to drop it and give one of the students on the waitlist my seat. 

Without a J-Term class, I spent the next few weeks emailing and visiting professors, hoping to get off their waitlists, making sure they knew that this was to be my last semester and that I was not yet registered. “Are you a major in this department or a first-year?” they all asked me. When I responded ‘no,’ they politely hinted that I had no chance of getting into their course. 

Many upperclassmen, as a result of the insufficient number of J-Term seats, ended up without a class, forced to come up with an independent study or given very few options for what they could take — courses they, respectfully, have no interest in. 

It should not be like this. 

Beyond being infuriating and defeating on a personal level, the registration process this year profoundly contradicts what J-Term — a program that Middlebury touts as part of what makes it special and unique — is supposed to be about. 

J-Term is meant, by offering a wide range of classes on unconventional and exciting topics, to give students the opportunity to take unique courses only offered in J-Term or try out a new subject area. Being forced to sign up for one of few remaining classes, or one of a handful of limited, last-minute course additions, is not the same as having the chance to explore new and unconventional class topics. J-Term this year for upperclassmen was not about opportunity and exploration; instead, it sent the message to tuition-paying members of this community that ‘you get what you get and you don’t get upset.’ 

There should be more than enough available seats in J-Term courses for students to preserve the ability of students to have some element of choice. There should be enough offerings that every student can find something they have at least moderate interest in. How many students are signed up for something that is not required for their major, not giving them a distribution requirement and not something remotely exciting or interesting to them?

Furthermore, having every single class full to bursting puts undue stress on professors, who are frantically fielding pleas from students like me, begging them to expand their class capacity beyond its already taxing number. I spoke with several professors who expressed empathy for my situation but did not feel they could handle any more students. What kind of J-Term have they been set-up for? 

The college attempted to mitigate the shortage by adding four classes at the start of the add/drop period. Because this was during the add/drop period, students would have to contact the professors and get their approval to join in order to get into these classes. Two days after these classes became available, any student not registered for a class or on a waitlist would be automatically opted out of J-Term. With many professors maintaining their own waitlists, it was difficult to know whether my status on several waitlists would be conveyed to the registrar. I emailed them pleading to not be placed on opt-out status.   

There is, of course, always the option of an independent study (which is my current plan). While I am grateful to the professor who agreed to supervise me last-minute, this is not what independent studies are about. They are meant to allow students excited about a particular topic to investigate it in-depth. They are not meant to be a frantic, last-minute back-up plan because there are no open seats in regular classes. 

The college, as with all over-enrollment issues this year, should have seen this coming. They have ways of ascertaining the number of students planning to be on campus in January, and know exactly the number of seats available in J-Term. It probably was quite difficult, as the college told The Campus, to convince visiting professors to teach at Middlebury this winter. But we have the technology for online courses. Being registered for an intellectually exciting and unique online course is better than not being registered at all, or being registered for an unwanted in-person class. There is no excuse.

When tuition rises every year at a school that calls itself elite and markets itself on its intellectual offerings, meeting the basic needs of students should not be an issue. All students should be able to, on the day of class registration, actually register for a class.

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Catherine McLaughlin

Cat McLaughlin is a super-senior feb from Gilford, NH. As a  political science major, she became interested in journalism through  media studies. In her free time she enjoys alpine skiing and sailing.  She also has worked as a ski coach at the Middlebury Snow Bowl, is a  lover of Proc dining hall, is hooked on iced coffee, and watches the  Pride and Prejudice movie at least 20 times per year.