March 25, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 92  

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For the birds: loss of popular biology course upsets students

By Laura Katsirdakis
Gazette Staff

Despite a significant waiting list of students hoping to enroll, a popular biology class will not be available next year.

Biology 355b, entitled “Adaptation and Ecology of Birds,” was taught by Ryan Zimmerling.

“Not only is it one of the few specialized and unique courses offered, it is one of the most popular — just ask the students who were on a waiting list to get into the course,” wrote fourth-year honors zoology student Andrea Robinson and fourth-year honors ecology and evolution student Tiffany Sherratt, in a letter to The Gazette.

“Is streamlining departments (i.e. reducing courses) the wave of the future for Western?” they asked. “This goes against what we feel is one of the most compelling reasons to attend university in the first place. That is, to gain knowledge and experience new ideas and concepts at the senior level that only specialized courses are able to offer.”

“The course was done by a senior faculty member who has now retired — there was no choice if there was no qualified person to replace them,” said dean of science Michael Owen. He noted that the decision not to offer the course next year was within the jurisdiction of the department.
“It was a very specialized course; I’m not sure it was entirely appropriate for an undergraduate program — we have enough basic biology that needs to be covered,” explained Brock Fenton, chair of the biology department. “[Specialized courses] are normally courses offered as part of a graduate program.”

According to Fenton, the departments of plant sciences and zoology were combined into the biology department two years ago. As a result there is ongoing debate about which courses are necessary for a cohesive biology department.

“There are new courses being offered; we are changing the undergraduate biology program. There is also a limited budget for sessionals,” Fenton said, adding no one is available to teach biology 355b with Zimmerling’s retirement.

Fenton noted that there would be a retreat at the end of April to decide which courses should be offered by the biology department. “Graduate and undergraduate students will be included,” he said.

“[Biology 355b] is not scheduled to be offered next year — it is scheduled to be offered in [2005/2006],” he said.

“Basic courses should be a priority — [how else] could people know all the different areas they could go into?” said Julie Hall, a third-year nursing student. “It would be great if people had the opportunity to take [specialized courses], but if you have to speak for everybody, it’s better to have the basic courses.”

“It depends on what program you’re in,” said Ahmad Nasser, a second-year computer engineering student.

“Biology is such a broad field, you would need courses like [biology 355b] to give you direction,” said third-year psychology and anthropology student Tara Rafferty.



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