Classes started yesterday, so I'm buried in the usual beginning-of-semester madness (I know that many of you are in the same boat). It was wonderful to see my students again, especially in my upper-division class, which has many students who have taken some of my other classes. That feeling of pleasure is what convinces me, semester after semester, that this really is the job I love best.
The administrative side of things, though, is not my happy place. This semester we are facing a particularly interesting situation, which manifests in increased pressure not to take crashers over our class cap numbers. Now, I actually approve of not going over class caps for a number of philosophical and pedagogical reasons. I can teach better when my classes have the number of students (and no more) that they are designed for. More generally, I can teach better when I have fewer students; when I started here, the goal was for faculty to have about 90 students each semester among their various classes. In the fall semester before furloughs, I had 120+. I just can't do for 120 students what I can do for 90 (up to and including learning all of their names). Note also that we are not paid more for teaching 120 students, even though that adds a third again as much work in terms of grading, etc, and none of our other workload decreases concomitantly. Hence my philosophical approval of the maintenance of class caps.
The added wrinkle this semester has to do with funding. As a state school, we receive a certain amount of money per student. We also receive a target number of full-time equivalent students (FTES) for each academic year. And, we must accept all students in our service area who meet the minimum requirements for entry into the system. All of this seems very reasonable, until I tell you that this semester, we are close to 700 FTES over our target, and that if we can't bring that number into line next semester (by cutting many sections from our schedule), our campus will pay a fine for every full-time equivalent student that goes over our cap + 2%.
That's a lot of abbreviations and numbers, but here's what it boils down to: we may end up paying a fine for teaching too many students.
Yes, you heard that right.
The upshot is that I had to turn away students who are working harder to pay more tuition for a smaller number of possible classes and increased time to graduation. It broke my heart.
In the meantime, I am seeing increasing numbers of bumper stickers around here lambasting big-spending Democrats (the president in particular, but there's a general sense that lefties spend too much money). And I'm getting pretty cranky about it. Because every single time I see one of those, I want to stop the person driving that car and ask them: which of the two presidents prior to this one left us with a budget surplus and actually had plans to pay down our national debt? (Hint: Not the Republican.) And which of those presidents spent hundreds of billions of dollars that we didn't have and left us deeper in dept than we have ever been? (Hint: Not the Democrat.)
In other words, it's not that simple. Let's be completely honest here: both parties spend money. Lots of it. It costs serious amounts of money to run a nation (or a state, or a city). Period. The difference between the left and the right is not in how much they spend. It's in what they choose to spend it on, and where they get the money that they do spend. Do they spend it on corporate welfare or social welfare? Do they spend it on education, or on tax cuts for top earners? Do they get money by raising taxes, or by reducing social services? There are arguments, both philosophical and fiscal, for either position, but we can't have a conversation about the merits and consequences of choosing one over the other if we're busy stating categorically that Democrats are big spenders and Republicans aren't. 'Cause it just ain't so.