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Cramming Takes on New Meaning at Jammed SDSU

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The students literally overflowed through the doorways and out into the hall Thursday as San Diego State University Spanish professor Alfonso Topete prepared to take attendance.

“Rhei Nazario?” he asked.

“Here,” came a muted response.

“Where?” the professor asked.

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Here ,” the reply came. Only a hand waving furiously from the hall above a crowd standing at the doorway gave evidence that there was a body attached to the voice.

The scene was repeated in many SDSU rooms on the first day of classes Thursday as the campus tried to cope with budget cuts resulting in 10% fewer classes, the loss of 400 temporary faculty and staff members who had not been rehired and the layoffs of 31 professors on an early retirement program.

“This is Spanish 100B. If you do not want to take Spanish 100B, you are in the wrong classroom. Let’s hope you are in the wrong classroom,” Topete said.

“Does anyone want to drop this class?” he asked in less than all seriousness, drawing one of the few laughs of the day for SDSU students.

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Few students were dropping classes, and certainly not any of the beginning Spanish courses, which were packed with students, most of whom were not enrolled and were trying to “crash” into the class, hoping the professors will allow them to stay.

“I’m supposed to accept 35 students, and I already have those 35. However, some students may drop, so you have a very slight chance of getting in,” Topete told the room of about 75.

“I don’t want to discourage you, but I do.”

After calling role, two of the preregistered students were no-shows, and Topete unceremoniously dropped them from the class. He then began the ritual of choosing which crashers could stay and which must leave, a process repeated often Thursday at the largest Cal State University campus.

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“I’m going to give priority to graduating seniors, then students with majors or minors in Spanish, then those majoring in international business,” Topete said. Hearing this, some students began filing out, knowing it was hopeless for them to get in.

“If you are trying to crash this class and you miss a day, you are automatically out,” Topete said, to the dismay of others who were trying to cover their bets by crashing other courses in the same time slot.

Professors are given wide latitude in determining who gets to stay and who does not. They can accept as many students as they are willing to teach, monitor and grade. Some draw names from a hat, others merely say, “Those not enrolled and not in a chair must leave.” Others just do not accept crashers.

Students’ attitudes ranged from anger to frustration, and sometimes both.

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“I think it’s really, really pathetic that they raise our tuition and cut our classes. They treat us like gum on the bottom of a shoe,” said Stacey Green, 22, a senior.

“This is severely depressing,” said Kelly Fick, who tried to crash into any of five basic Spanish courses that were being held in the same room during various times of the day.

“It’s just kind of discouraging that you go to a state school because it’s cheaper, but it will take you two extra years to graduate because you can’t get the classes you need. You might as well pay more and go to a private school and get out on time,” said Fick, 18, a sophomore majoring in journalism.

Students at large public universities such as SDSU regularly take more than five years to graduate, while in many smaller, private institutions, most students graduate in four years.

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While the number of students receiving none of their requested classes dropped from 1,163 to 250 after a schedule adjustment earlier this month, many like Fick merely picked up classes for the sake of accumulating units and not because those classes interested them, met general education requirements or worked toward their majors.

“I’m just taking them because I have to be insured medically,” said Fick, whose parents’ medical program requires that she be enrolled as a full-time student in order to be covered.

For those away from home for the first time, their introduction to college life was a rude awakening.

“My roommates were telling me I’d get first priority because I’m a freshman, but I’ve gotten a big shock already,” said Eliza Sajor, who tried to crash four classes.

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The only class in which she was preregistered was a chemistry class that had a prerequisite she had not yet fulfilled, said the 18-year-old biology major from Oxnard as she signed up to see if she could crash into a psychology class.

She couldn’t.

Sajor was one of 15 students turned away as they tried to crash the introductory psychology class.

“That’s the way it goes. I recommend you try the other sections and be persistent. Also, try the junior colleges. That’s all I can say,” Greg Norman, the graduate teaching assistant, told them.

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But the junior colleges have repeatedly warned that they also have space limitation, with the San Diego Community College District cutting back 170 class sections this year.

There were some success stories, however, at SDSU.

“I got all of my classes,” said Seth Roychelle, a junior psychology student, as she sat on the floor of a filled-to-capacity lecture hall.

“It’s all chance, unless of course you believe in a higher power,” Roychelle said.

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In departments severely affected by budget cuts, only the most esoteric classes remained open.

“At this moment, there are only two courses in the entire department’s offerings that are open: history of ancient India and the history of Tudor and Stuart England,” said David Default, chairman of the history department.

A list of classes with open seats released by the university Thursday showed several biology, mathematics, geography, music, geology, French and Russian classes open.

However, of the 75 departments in which the university offers bachelor’s degrees, 42 have no openings in any classes, according to the list.

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Only one class was available in each of 15 other departments: Afro-American studies, astronomy, economics, engineering, history, humanities, Hebrew, Italian, journalism, political science, psychology, recreation, religious studies, social work and sociology.

“The campus is functioning. I am personally pleased because I sense that things are not quite as depressing as we had expected,” said Rick Moore, a university spokesman.

“Things are tighter, but it’s not a disaster,” Moore said, citing numbers showing that 44.2% of students received their full schedule requested, down from last year’s 44.8%, and 67.5% received all but one class requested, down from 73.6% last year.

The average course load for students also fell slightly from 11.8 units each last year to 11.6 this year, Moore said.

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Part of that, however, may be because enrollment is down to 32,458 this year from nearly 34,000 last year because of the cut in classes, Moore said.


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