A Letter to Waitlisted Students

The following is an excerpt from a letter I sent to students on the wait list for two undergraduate writing courses. The enrollment cap in each course is 25, but 25 extra students showed up on the first day of class looking for a seat.

Dear Students,
I’m writing you because you signed a wait list on Tuesday for one of my sections of 214. I wish I had better news for you, but it looks as if the chances of being added to the class are very minimal….

Why can’t I over-enroll the course? It’s because doing so would affect the quality of the experience for everyone in the class. As an instructor, I have a finite amount of attention I can give to each student. The more students added to a course, the less of that attention I can give to each of them. In a writing course, in particular, it is crucial that students receive individualized instruction tailored to their specific needs. That’s hard to do even with the current enrollment caps, and nearly impossible if the course is over-enrolled.

Also, if teachers make it a habit to accept students above the current cap, some administrators may get the idea that they can raise the cap without any harm. Unfortunately, there are some at the university who care only about how many students can be crammed into a classroom, and not about the quality of education those students receive.

Your current predicament is a result of much larger forces. As you may know, the state economy has not fully recovered yet, and higher education in California has been severely underfunded in the past few years. Unfortunately, the voters of this state are often more interested in cutting taxes than providing a quality college experience for you. I would encourage you to write to your state representatives and the governor’s office to register your dissatisfaction with higher education funding in the state. You deserve better.

(For a useful discussion of some of these issues, see this post by a public policy professor at UC Berkeley.)

Kory Lawson Ching


2 thoughts on “A Letter to Waitlisted Students

  1. I really like this idea. I wonder how many will take you up on the suggestion? Most adults aren’t interested in seeing immediate frustrations as being the result of larger systemic issues, how much harder must it be when you are 18? Case in point: there’s an article here in today’s Washington Post about how much people start hating on trees when we have a storm and trees take out the power lines. Of course, the real problem is that our utility companies are too cheap to invest in underground power delivery!

    Are other writing teachers doing this with their waitlisted students or are you the only radical?

    • I’m not sure how “radical” it is … I just felt like my students deserved more explanation than I could provide in class, with all the other usual first-week rituals to be performed. I totally hear you about blindness to “larger systemic issues.” Some teachers encourage students to complain to the president of our campus or to the dean. What happens, though, is that instead of complaining about the systemic problems, students apparently say things like “I can’t get this class that I really need to graduate.” Such complaints only set off a chain of events resulting in our comp. director having to respond to the student (and responding to everyone higher up in the chain). That doesn’t do anyone any good.

      Maybe what I should do is write up a sample letter myself that students could sign and send to their reps. Or maybe I should come to the first day of school with an ample supply of pitchforks and torches. (That’s a joke, for any readers who are humor-deficient.)


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