Sunday, November 29, 2009

Update on Anth 143

A week ago Friday, I had a second meeting with Professor Clancy, this one with Geoff Brewster in attendance. Geoff works for ATLAS. Starting off the meeting, Professor Clancy informed us that the Anthro head had just alerted the department that they were taking a 4.5% rescission. (The entire Campus has been planning for that rescission since the beginning of the fiscal year. Most units held back the funds, so they wouldn't be spent on something else. Apparently Anthro did not.) The upshot is that they will not have TAs this spring. That is how they are taking the budget hit.

Anth 143 is the largest course offered by the department. It is only taught in the fall. (There is a small section taught by a grad student in the summer, but there is no offering in the spring.) Will there be TAs for it in fall 2010? It's hard to imagine a 700 student course without TAs. But it is equally hard to envision having TAs when there is no cash in the system to pay them.

Needless to say, this news created a detour in the discussion of our class project - having mentors to help teams of students do their project work for the course. Can there be realistic intensive student projects if there aren't TAs to grade the projects? We talked about possible work arounds - calibrated peer review, for example. But there is a lot of set up work for the instructor to implement any of these and that is a big part of the issue in implementing any sort of change in such a high enrollment class. So we spent some time whining about lack of resources and the campus not having its priorities right. Not anticipating any of this going into the meeting, I'm afraid I contributed to the doom and gloom. I had no rabbit to pull out of my hat. I didn't see our project working if there were no TAs.

After railing about the issues for a while, we spent some time talking about the use of mentors, as a hypothetical. We did talk about how the mentors might be deployed, scheduling evening sections (perhaps Sun - Thurs), one hour per week, to have a fixed time and space for the mentors to meet with the groups. We also talked a little bit about how that might go and designing the course up front so the teams could get through any stumbling block they might encounter early on and have the mentor help them with that, also so they would bond in advance of the project work they'd do later in the semester.

The other avenue of this we talked about is a totally online version, possibly in the summer, maybe in the fall as well offered as an 8 week course during the second 8 weeks of the semester. It seems that getting the summer calendar in sync with the fall and spring calendars might happen by dividing up the longer semester into halves. I'd favor that. It is a very long semester.
In any event, I thought you should know it isn't full steam ahead, but there still are possibilities.


  1. Professor Arvan, thanks for giving us the update. It is unfortunate that department is facing the rescission. I've been reading about campus news regarding funding being cut and hiring freezes. Do you know what other departments are also facing (or already facing) rescissions?

  2. I believe this first round is across the board, but likely won't be too visible in consequence. The story is that the State of Illinois took all the Stimulus money this year. As a condition of taking the funds, it can't cut funding to the University. Next year, when there is no Stimulus money, things could get grim. Other states are taking the Stimulus over a two-year period.