March 25, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 92  

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Bird course flies away

For the time being, it appears Western will lose one more “bird” course.

The Gazette has received several letters to the editor bemoaning the cancellation of biology 355b — Adaptations and Ecology of Birds. Answering the complaints, Western’s administration has stated that the course is not being permanently eliminated, and will return in September 2005.

But due to the retirement of Ryan Zimmerling, the professor who specializes in birds and was responsible for teaching the course, biology 355b will not be offered next year. The search for a new professor is underway, but for now it seems as if students will need to familiarize themselves with the phrase “bye-bye birdy.”

The possible end to biology 355b raises an interesting question about specialized courses — or the lack thereof — at Western. With the amount of tuition students pay, many would assume there is enough funding for more specialized undergraduate material in all programs, and enough professors to teach the material.

University should offer a chance for students to follow their interests in particular areas. Consequently, the structure of undergraduate studies needs to be re-examined, with course schedules being based on student demand instead of the availabilty of professors.

The first two years of undergraduate studies should be spent learning the basics and finding out what interests you most. By third year a gradual transition into more specialized courses should begin to ensure that by fourth year, students aren’t jumping from the basics to the intensely specific.

In many departments, seminar classes do not begin until fourth year and students are expected to make the change without the experience of having focused on one subject in detail.

Also, seminar course offerings change year-to-year, meaning students are forced to settle on what is available instead of what they demand. As the courses change, so do the professors teaching them, and sessional professors are often called upon to teach. This can be a good experience, but many students find these lecturers apathetic about the specialized subject, its value and the students themselves. A broader range of specialization amongst professors would benefit students and lessen the need for sessional fill-ins.

In order to find out what students want, the university should create a program to measure demand for particular courses and subjects that is tied to the Intent to Register system. During regular summer registration, students could then be informed of the feasibility of their choices and allowed to enroll in courses that generated sufficient student interest.

If Western re-evaluated their methodology for determining which courses to offer, it would make students happier and help to promote the school to potential incoming students.



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