For the birds: loss of popular biology course upsets students
By Laura Katsirdakis
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
“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.