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Preregistration for Spring 2021 (#1110)

Topics/tags: Registration, Grinnell, assorted data, rambly, long, end-notable

Warning! This musing has received almost no editing or rewriting [1]. Writing what you see already took too much of my life.

It’s 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I should be in bed. I’m behind on sleep [3]. But I had nightmares [4]. So I’m less tired and more wired than I should be.

Plus I have a lot to do for my class: grading (wrapping up mini-project 2), assignments to write (seven sample questions, seven makeup questions, and seven new questions for the next set of learning assessments [5]), grading (quizzes), writing (The Zen of Booleans, How to format your Racket code, "Higher-order list tips and tricks), grading (initial grading of mini-project 3), and more.

I also have things to do for the department: prep for our meeting with the Dean about technology policies [6], comments about dealing with the mess that is preregistration, a long-outstanding response to our external review [7], some clarification on the upcoming discussion of individual learning at Grinnell [8], and some other things that I’m forgetting.

Nonetheless, preregistration just ended, and I always muse at the end of preregistration. It’s also the first (and hopefully only) preregistration in which we’re dealing with terms (semisemesters), rather than semesters. It is likely the last preregistration in which I can refer to the current summary of course offerings [9]; it’s custom ITS software, and I’ve been told we’re discontinuing both custom ITS software and Web Advisor [10]. It may be the last time we refer to it as preregistration; there’s a move to calling it open registration. I anticipate that it will soon be called individually advised registration. And then there’s the chance that the whole process will go away. President Harris has already expressed concern about our process and suggested that she will push to change it [11]. Plus, my readers have been clamoring for a musing about preregistration [12]. And I haven’t had enough chance to write for fun recently [14].

So, I’m musing about preregistration at Grinnell. Maybe I’ll go back and take a nap afterwards [16].

Background: Registration at Grinnell

One of the the longstanding issues at most institutions of higher education is how you manage the pairing of students with classes, which is traditionally done in a process known as registration. I suppose it must be relatively straightforward at institutions that do not cap class sizes: just let students register for what they want. But at institutions with limited-size classes, there needs to be a way to decide which of the many students that want, say, Shakespeare [17] or Film Studies [18] or Introductory Computer Science [19] can do so. First-come, first-served is not particularly fair. Economic systems in which you bid on classes prioritize students of a particular mindset. Other prioritization systems (e.g., seniors first) can make it hard for students to progress in majors and sometimes lead to five-year degrees.

Most institutions have at least one characteristic that helps them manage these complexities: general education requirements. GenEd requirements provide a useful mechanism for predicting demand. I assume they make it easy to shift students (Oh well, you didn’t get this course that meets this requirement; you can just take one of the three others.)

But Grinnell has an open curriculum [20] with no general education requirements. We can still do some predictions: Students will always want to take Shakespeare and Film Studies. But student characteristics change. It was not long ago that our introductory philosophy courses was one of the first to fill, and that’s no longer the case. There are even regularly spaces in introductory economics.

So Grinnell does something different. We pretend that there are no caps on classes [22]. Students register [23]. We then look at where things stand and in a frantic process known as Cut, Close, Balance (CCB), we try to deal with over-enrolled and under-enrolled classes. Here are some typical strategies.

  • In courses with multiple sections in which one section has high enrollment (particularly over enrollment) and one has lower enrollment, we ask the Registrar to see which students can move from the too-big section to the section with space. That is, we balance.
  • When one course in a department is over-enrolled and another course has very low enrollment, we might drop the low-enrollment course, add a section of the over-enrolled course and shuffle teaching. Shuffling teaching is hard, since not everyone can or should teach every course, but we do try to support our students.
  • There are also variants of the prior approach that involve combining courses and other creative activities.
  • When a course in a department is over-enrolled and there is a possibility of bringing in another teacher (e.g., a Senior Lecturer who is teaching less than a full load or a faculty member in a shared position), we ask the Dean to come up with money for another section.
  • We cut students from the course. There are lots of policies for cutting.
    • In CS, we tend prioritize students who most need the course (e.g., seniors who need it for graduation; CS majors) and then try to look at the bigger picture. For example, a major taking only one CS course is likely to have priority in that one course over a major taking two CS courses.
    • The Registrar’s office will also cut randomly if we ask nicely.
    • Some students believe that sending notes explaining why they should be kept in the class helps. In some situations, it may.
    • We might survey students or ask them to volunteer to be cut.
    • I always want to cut to below the cap to allow for students who have unexpected arguments. The Registrar’s office is not generally sympathetic to that approach.
  • We allow courses to over-enroll. That’s not a great strategy. There’s generally a good reason we’ve set a particular course capacity. Larger courses tend to provide a less good student experience and to put significantly more burden on the instructor.

I’ve been told that the Dean will require departments to cancel courses below a certain enrollment. I don’t quite understand how that works. What does the person teach instead? I suppose a cut fall course could lead to an extra spring course, but a faculty member teaching two in the fall and three in the spring should not be forced to teach three in the spring. And I assume that required courses are held no matter what.

Background: Terms

That’s the process in a normal year. But this is not a normal year. This fall, most of our classes are online. This spring, most of our classes will be online [24]. More importantly, it was decided [27] that we would split our fourteen-week semesters into seven-week terms [28]. Rather than taking four courses in a typical semester, students would take two courses in a typical term. Rather than teaching two or three courses in a typical semester [30], faculty would teach one or two [31].

Terms permit the College to be more agile. Depending on how the pandemic progresses, we can add students to campus in each term or remove students from campus. At least that’s the plan.

I’m a big fan of agility. I teach agile methods in many of our classes. But I’m not a big fan of terms. Maybe I’ll write about that at some point. I’ll just note that those who made the switch did not predict (and probably could not have predicted) all of the effects.

The switch to terms—along with some of the followup decisions—has had a clear effect on preregistration and on the CCB process. Here are a few.

  • Students have less complete information about course offerings. Right now, it’s not clear which courses are synchronous and which are asynchronous. (At least I couldn’t figure it out easily.) So two classes that appear to conflict may not. Because we have slotted every course into a fairly large block (approximately ten hours per week), it’s not possible to tell whether two courses in the same block really conflict. For example, it appears that I am teaching two courses at the same time in Spring Two. But one meets Monday/Wednesday and one meets Tuesday/Thursday [33].
  • The registration process was more difficult, because we had to handle twice as many screens (e.g., two, rather than one, for the list of offerings; two, rather than one, to select and register for courses). Usually, I get to check off It’s okay if this student takes any section of this course. Now I have to check it off for two semesters. Course planning felt harder to me.
  • We had different policies for when to offer classes. Normally, there are popular times (e.g., 11 a.m.) and unpopular times (e.g., 8 a.m.) for classes. The Registrar’s office normally requires departments to limit the number of courses in popular times and to have a minimum number of courses in unpopular times. This year, we had no such limits. But we were encouraged to offer multi-section courses in different time slots to give students more options [34]. Not all departments followed that guidance.
  • There’s a new course time: evenings from 7:00-8:50 p.m. Central time. Students are generally trying to avoid having both 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. classes [35].
  • Balancing sections between terms is much more difficult. The Registrar’s office won’t do it for us (and I don’t think they should).
  • Switching faculty teaching responsibilities is likely to be much more difficult.

And there are a host of other issues at play. We have more students on voluntary leave than normal. On the other hand, we have fewer students studying abroad. I don’t know how that affects overall enrollment, but it may affect the balance of students and student interests.

Then there are other issues that affect course choices. The economy may make students and parents even more focused on jobs and their beliefs about majors and jobs. Course formats (or assumed formats) likely play a role in student decisions. Some students really like asynchronous classes [36]. Many do not. Workload is likely an issue. While all of our four-credit classes are supposed to require approximately 24 hours of work per week [37,38], I assume there’s fairly wide variance and that students are good at sharing that information with each other. Some courses seem unnatural in a remote format. From what I hear, students would much prefer in-person lab and studio art courses to online versions [39]. And, while there’s a lot of excitement to doing new forms of theatre online, it appears students are reluctant to step that far outside their comfort zone.

On to the enrollments

Whoops. I’ve written about 2500 words [40] and I haven’t even gotten to the main focus of this piece: The state of enrollments after preregistration but before CCB. At least I assume it’s before CCB. I’ve grabbed the data on Saturday morning. I don’t think CCB will start until Monday. But you never know. Some faculty are pretty aggressive about getting these steps done. I don’t even know when CCB decisions are due.

How should I approach the problem? In some years, I’ve done it alphabetically, but I run out of interest midway through. In other years, I’ve done it by enrollment. Maybe I’ll just look for some topics of interest and write until I get bored.

Computer science

How do things stand in CS? About the same as they always stand. Many of our classes are over-enrolled. Others are full, or close to full. A few have less enrollment [41] than we’d expect. As department chair, I should probably think through these things in preparation for today’s letter to the department.

CSC-151, Functional Problem Solving, is over-enrolled by five students (37 instead of 32) in Spring One and under-enrolled by one student (31 instead of 32) in Spring Two. We increased the capacity of CSC-151 this year from 24 to 32 or 36 [42]. I saw a lot of shuffling in the Fall 2 section of CSC-151. I’m teaching the over-enrolled section. In a normal year, I’d probably cut the 3rd-year students in 151 and put them on a waiting list. This year, I’ll probably send a message to the class letting them know that it’s a synchronous class with expected attendance. If everyone wants to stay, I’ll let them stay.

We also increased the capacity in CSC-161, Imperative Problem Solving, from 24 to 32 students. We have 29 in the Spring One section and 29 in the Spring Two section. Cool! There’s a little bit of slack for students who neglected to enroll and there’s no need to balance. We would have needed three sections in a normal semester (or we would have needed to cut students), which I should keep in mind for spring 2022. Of course, spring 2022 will also not be a typical semester. If students are back, I assume we’ll have more students than normal or at least more first-year students.

CSC-207, Object-Oriented Problem Solving [43] Data Structures, and Algorithms [44], has 17 students in Spring One and 22 in Spring Two. In a normal semester, we’d talk about trying to balance (and would likely decide not to). We’ll leave these as is. We do need to make sure that none of the Spring-Two students are taking CSC-161 in Spring One. The switch to terms is not intended to allow students to accelerate their majors. And if that is to happen, we want students to have equal or appropriately prioritized [45] access. I wish I had access to class lists. Oh well, I’ll get those on Monday.

CSC/MAT-208, Discrete Structures, has only nine students. Students have to take CSC/MAT-208 or MAT-218 for the major. Is this a sign that fewer students are planning a CS major or just that lots want to take MAT-218? I wish I knew more about patterns of enrollment here.

CSC-213, Operating Systems and Parallel Algorithms, has 23 in Spring One and 37 in Spring Two. The cap is 24. When I looked on Thursday, we had fewer in each section and my main worry was switching students from Spring Two to Spring One. Now I’m just worried about cutting thirteen students from the Spring Two section. Here’s another case in which I wish I had access to the class lists. It may be that there are lots of first-years there, and we can easily cut those [46].

CSC/PSY/TEC-232, Human-Computer Interaction, has thirty-seven students for twenty-four slots. I’ve already received an email message from someone who failed to register last night but who had talked to me about the class and needs it to graduate. Bleh. I’m going to consult with my advisory panel, but my current temptation is to offer a second section of the course. It’s a two-credit course that I plan to have meet two days per week. I can have one section meet MW and one meet TuTh. That will affect students in CSC-282 when I switch it to another time, but that’s life. I also have to check with the Dean [47].

CSC-261, Artificial Intelligence, is over-enrolled by four students, with 28 students and 24 slots. We’ll cut four students.

CSC-282, Thinking in C and Unix, has nine students. It’s a one-credit course. I could cut it to allow the second section of HCI. But I love teaching it, and I haven’t offered it in a few years. If I add the second section of HCI, I’ll probably just try to switch the time, which may affect some students. Oh well.

CSC-301, Analysis of Algorithms, is going to be troublesome. The Spring One section is over-enrolled by fourteen students (34 enrolled for a class of 20). The Spring Two section has nine slots. I expect many factors are in play. The Spring Two section is an evening class, and some students are trying to avoid evening classes. The two faculty also have very different approaches to remote teaching. We can’t shift students across terms, so we’ll need to cut from the Spring One section and then let them add the Spring Two section. Should we close the Spring Two section so that we can manage shifts, or just do a first-come, first-served approach? I’d prefer the former, but I’m a control freak.

CSC-324, Software Design and Development has twenty-two in Spring One and twenty-two in Spring Two. That would be a nice balance, except that the course is supposed to have a cap of sixteen. And then there’s the paired course, CSC-326, Software Design Leadership. That has six students in Spring One and five in Spring Two. Another reasonable balance, especially with a cap of six.

But 324 and 326 are a weird pairing, an evolution of our software design curriculum using a less-than-ideal structure brought on by Deanly opinions and institutional policies. One of the foci of both courses is that students work in teams of five (I think) to develop a large software project for a community partner. The CSC-326 students are alumni of CSC-324 who return to the class in leadership positions. That provides an extra learning opportunity for students with certain interests and also serves as one of the ways we provide opportunities for research [48].

Whoops. Those details may not be important right now. What’s important is that faculty receive teaching credit for CSC-324 but not for CSC-326. And the idea was that we’d have twenty students total between CSC-324 and CSC-326. And there’s that issue of teams of five [49]. We’ll need to decide whether we allow both sections to over-enroll and how that works with projects and team sizes.

CSC-341, Automata, Formal Languages, and Computational Complexity has ten students enrolled and a cap of twenty. I’d hope for a few more students, but that seems reasonable, particularly for an evening class that is up against AI. Maybe some of the students we cut from AI will switch into 341.

And that’s it for my department. I should send an email message to my colleagues [50].

Cross-term balance issues

On Thursday evening, I started looking at other classes that were likely to have the issue of needing to balance across terms (see CSC-301). Why? Because I hoped that my fellow chairs in departments with similar problems would have worked out solutions. Amazingly, most of those problems resolved themselves the same way as CSC-213. That is, the section that looked like it had room filled. Still, I wonder where things stand.

STA-209, Applied Statistics, is overenrolled in Spring One (39/36). In Spring Two, section 1 is incredibly over-enrolled (63/36) and section 2 has only one slot. That would normally be a situation in which you find a way to add another section. But who would teach that? And why do we still have classes with a cap of 36 [51]? Statistics is a long-term issue at the College. We’ve relied on visitors for five years or more. We really need to address that issue.

PSY-113, Introduction to Psychology, is over-enrolled by twelve students in Spring Two and has eight open slots in Spring One. Hmmm … Both are also at 8:00 a.m. Did they not get the memo? The schedule for morning lab-science courses [52] is awesome. MWF 8:00 a.m. to 11:50 a.m., TuTh 8:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. I had at least one Tutorial student look at that and say Um, I don’t think I’ll take lab science this year.

But I was supposed to be writing about balancing. It’s Psychology. I wonder if they run experiments to decide who gets to switch. And even if students switch, there aren’t enough total slots. Who gets prioritized? I’d prioritize first-years, who are prospective majors.

As long as we’re on the subject of Psychology, it appears that PSY-248, Abnormal Psychology, is over-enrolled by three students, section 1 of PSY-495, Senior Seminar, is over-enrolled by three students, and section 2 of PSY-495 is over-enrolled by four students. In Spring 2, PSY-232, Human Computer Interaction, is over-enrolled by thirteen students and PSY-345, Psychopharmacology, is over-enrolled by seven. I’m amazed that we offer Psychopharmacology at all; I have nightmares about Grinnell students experimenting on each other or using it as a first step in creating their own substances [53].

I assume that they find three students to cut from Abnormal. I wonder if it’s normal to cut from Abnormal. I assume they allow Senior Seminar to over-enroll. What’s the alternative? Sorry, there wasn’t room for you in Senior Seminar. I guess you won’t graduate. I’ve covered HCI already, since it’s cross-listed with CS. And Psychopharm? I have no idea. I assume they push students to other psych courses, which have a bit of space.

Returning to other courses that need cross-term balancing,I see that the Spring Two section of PHI-111, Introduction to Philosophy, is over-enrolled by sixteen students (41/25) and the Spring One section has four open slots. That’s much more of a gap than I recall from Thursday night [54]. It’s good to see Philosophy getting more popular. I wonder who they will keep, who they will cut, and how they will shift.

Chemistry and Biological Chemistry have an interesting pairing of what were cross-term balancing needs. On Thursday evening, I saw that BCM-262, Introduction to Biological Chemistry, was over-enrolled in Spring Two with space in Spring One and CHM-222, Organic Chemistry II, was over-enrolled in Spring One with space in Spring Two. That makes some sense, as CHM-222 is officially a prerequisite for BCM-262. But the search schedule of courses info for BCM-262 in Spring One does say Students may take the prerequisite for BCM-262 of CHM222 in S1 or S2, but if they want to take CHM222 in S2, they need to contact the Registrar to get permission. I wonder why there are two sections of CHM-222 in Spring Two rather than Spring One. Probably because of other restrictions on faculty time. And didn’t we decide to use Spring 1 and Spring 2 rather than S1 and S2? There’s an accessibility issue at play—F and S sound almost identical for those of us with high-end hearing loss. Plus, F1 sounds too much like that thing Trump tried to eliminate.

Where do things stand now? [55] The Spring One section of BCM-262 has five available slots. The Spring Two section of BCM-262 is over-enrolled by ten students. The Spring One section of CHM-222 is over-enrolled by a whopping twenty-one students while the Spring Two sections have thirteen and four slots, respectively. And it’s not the instructors. That chemist with a theme song and traditionally high enrollments is teaching both terms.

These are chemists. They don’t like to cut students. I assume that they’ll encourage students to switch between semesters and permit a bit of over-enrollment. Or will that work with labs? I don’t know. It may depend on whether or not we can have in-person labs. But I expect that most students will survive.

Is that it for the balancing issues? I think so. Good luck to everyone who has to deal with these!


While I was looking at the balancing issues above, I saw that another Monessa Cummins course was over-enrolled. Which one? CLS-250, Roman Archaeology and Art. But it’s over-enrolled by only seven students. You’d think that one of the top faculty in America would get more [56].

I wonder how the rest of Classics is doing, particularly given the snarky comments about Classics yesterday’s otherwise excellent speaker gave. What was it, If the Humanities aren’t careful, we’ll end up like Classics [58]? I thought Classics was one of the Humanities. And aren’t the Classics awesome? So maybe he was implying, If we aren’t careful, we’ll end up as awesome as we already are. But I don’t think that was the point.

Let’s see … LAT-222, Intermediate Latin, has fifteen students. That’s pretty good, especially since rumor has it that our Elementary [59] Latin course covers what other schools cover in two semesters. LAT-395, ST: Plautus, only has six. I wonder what the prereqs are. GRE-222, Intermediate Greek, has seven. Not as good as Latin. Not as good as 100 years ago at Grinnell. But not bad. And I’d expect that all of those students plan to major. GRE-303, Greek Drama, has fourteen. Cool. Let’s hope that the students didn’t misread the title and think that it’s a course on Geek Drama [60,61]. CLS-395, ST: Greek Ethical Thought, has eleven. Not bad for a 300-level seminar! But why are some Greek courses GRE and some CLS? I suppose I should know. And what’s the relationship between the Classics and Careers, Life, and Service? Ah, maybe that’s how you get more people into the Classics [62]. Another Classics special topic, CLS-395, ST: Indo-Euro Poetry & Myth, has thirteen. A nice, healthy seminar size. Finally, CLS-495, the Senior Seminar, has nine. That’s a good size.

I shouldn’t be surprised at the health of our Classics department. They are awesome faculty.

Shakespeare and Film Studies

Remember these? They are the ones I classify as traditionally over-enrolled classes. That’s in part because I look back to my days at the UofC when Shakespeare with Bevington and Film with Mast were the classes people camped out for in Chicago’s strange variant of first-come, first-served. (You camped out to set up appointments with your advisor. After that, it was FCFS. So there were two factors: How many students your advisor had who wanted early appointments and how quickly you could make the appointment with your advisor.) But Shakespeare with Garrison is also an over-enrolled class, and I’d expect it to be more so because he’ll be off at the Newberry [64] in Fall 2021 [65]. Film Studies has not been a regular class, but with the addition of a new position in Film and a potential concentration in Media Studies, I hope it will be.

Strangely enough, there are still three open spaces in the Spring 1 section of Garrison’s Introduction to Shakespeare. Why is that strange? Because I’m used to seeing Garrison classes, particularly Shakespeare, over-enrolled by a factor of two. But there are four sections of Shakespeare this year, if we include Garrison’s ENG-195, ST: Shakespeare Behind Bars, which is over-enrolled by three and has a larger cap (25) than the normal intro (20). I was going to suggest that students were thinking about the bars that serve alcohol [66], but then the class would see more enrollment. Perhaps 85 slots in Shakespeare per year, rather than 40, would regularly satisfy demand.

ART-195, ST: Intro to Film Studies, is over-enrolled by about a factor of two, with 39 students in a class capped at 20. Poor Prof. Tavares; while it’s great to have that much interest in your discipline, it’s awful to have to tell students no. There is room in ART-295, ST: Fundamentals of Video Production, so perhaps some students can study film through making. I see that there are also twenty-seven students in GWS-295, ST: Trans Film and Media, suggesting interest in both film and a particular context for film. The class is capped at 30 (why?), so all of the students will get to be there. In any case, I see student demand for the Media Studies concentration. Let’s hope that once things settle down, we see forward progress on that [67].


Looking at Shakespeare and Film got me thinking about English. Let’s see how things stand there. In Spring One, there seem to be five over-enrolled courses: ENG-120, Literary Analysis (there’s space in the early-morning section); ENG-195, Poetry and Performance; ENG-206, The Craft of Poetry (regularly over-enrolled), ENG-329, Studies in African American Literature; and ENG-390, Literary Theory. Literary Theory, in particular, is over-enrolled by nine students. What was someone saying about the death of the humanities? Not here.

What else do I see in Spring One? I see Ralph is teaching a special topic on Neurohumanities [68]. It has strong enrollment. I’ve seen the titles a few times, but I hadn’t realized that we had regular courses on Reading & Writing Youth Culture and Feminism and Difference. Both sound interesting.

I’m surprised that Ralph’s Craft of Creative Nonfiction doesn’t have more students. Although you may not be able to tell it from this musing, I learned a lot in that class. Perhaps it’s that it’s at 8:00 a.m. [69]. Perhaps it’s because students don’t know what to make of a 2.0-credit version of the course. My assumption was that it was split between terms, but the enrollment is not the same in each term, so maybe not. Or maybe our system just can’t handle such issues.

And that brings us to Spring Two. Or at least it brings us to English in Spring Two. There’s another over-enrolled section of ENG-120, Literary Analysis, but there’s also another section with space. I’ve already mentioned that ENG-195, Shakespeare Behind Bars, is over-enrolled. Another 195 course, ENG-195, Introduction to Freelance Journalism, is also overenrolled (28/20). If there’s that much demand for the course, I wonder if we could get someone in the College community to teach it regularly [71]. ENG-231, American Literary Traditions III, is over-enrolled by a whopping sixteen students (41/25). And, once again, ENG-390, Literary Theory, is over-enrolled by nine students. Oh, that’s because it’s split between terms.

I wonder what English is going to do about that over-enrollment in Literary Theory.

Beyond that? These enrollments seem pretty good. What’s that about the death of the humanities? It’s good to see them living on here.

Other Humanities

On that note, I should look at other Humanities. Since the rest of the world classifies History as one of the core humanistic disciplines, I suppose I should look there next. One really small enrollment course, and it’s an upper-level 300-course with an arranged time". The rest look fairly solid. HIS-295, ST: Foundations of US Popular Culture, is over-enrolled by nine students (34/25). HIS-223, Health & Medicine in American History, is over-enrolled by twelve students (37/25). HIS-295, ST: Surveillance in Modern History, is over-enrolled by two (27/25). HIS-327, The Civil Rights Movement, is over-enrolled by seven (19/12).

Conveniently, our HUM prefix falls right after history. HUM-101, Humanities I: The Ancient Greek World, is over-enrolled by eight (28/20). The special topics in the general humanities are less strong, but that may be because it’s hard to advertise these kinds of courses.

Well, that’s about as far as my attention span will go today. There are too many humanistic disciplines to look at them all and still finish this musing in a reasonable amount of time [73]. I’m not even going to look at what’s happening in Studio Art (always a popular topic) or Theatre and Dance (one of my favorite departments).

Mathematics and Statistics

But that doesn’t mean I won’t look at my former home department before giving up on this musing. How is Math/Stats doing?

It appears that Mathematics chose an interesting strategy for multi-section courses. Unlike CS, which increased enrollments in individual sections but cut total sections, Math seems to have followed what I think of as The Econ Strategy for spring: In many cases, both sections of a course are taught by the same faculty member and are offered at the same time [74]. That leads to some interesting pairing. For example, Section 1 of MAT-133, Calculus II, in Spring One, is over-enrolled by nine people, while Section 2, offered at exactly the same time and with the same instructor, has thirty-one open slots. Something similar happens with Calc II in Spring Two: Section 2 has twenty-two slots, while section 1 is over-enrolled by eleven [75].

What else do I see in Math? MAT-218, Graph Theory (Spring One), is slightly over-enrolled, while MAT-218, Elementary Number Theory (Spring Two), has some open spaces. I missed this issue when I was looking at cross-term balancing. I suppose that has to happen here. I wonder if Math will check for prospective CS majors and prioritize them for the Graph Theory version of MAT-218 [76].

Ah! Here’s what I had recalled. Spring Two brings way too much over-enrollment in 300-level courses. MAT-316, Foundations of Analysis, is over-enrolled by three (23/20). MAT-321, Foundations of Abstract Algebra, is over-enrolled by seven (27/20). MAT-322, Computational Algebraic Geometry, is over-enrolled by fifteen (27/12). I don’t envy the department in figuring out those issues.

Of course, there is a member of the department who taught Tutorial and a moderately large course (28 students) in Fall One while also chairing two important committees [79]. Maybe they’ll take on an overload [80].

Some other over-enrolled courses

I’m running out of energy. I’m going to call out a few more courses and then call it a day, or at least a musing.

POL-219, Constitutional Law and Politics (Spring One), is over-enrolled by a whopping thirty-four students (59/25), which may be the high this year. I don’t think it’s ever over-enrolled by that much, even when the legendary Ira Strauber taught it. Congrats PH! I wonder if the popularity is due to our students’ experience with a president who doesn’t seem to have read the constitution [81]. I do see that POL-395, Democratic Decline is also over-enrolled, although not by nearly as much.

HUM-195, ST: I/Robot (Spring One), is over-enrolled by thirty students (60/30). It’s not a surprise. It’s a cool and timely topic. It’s one of the most popular faculty members at the College [82], who is also writing a book on the topic. I just hope Karla keeps in the CS majors, who will benefit highly from thinking about the implications of their work [83]. I also wonder if there’s a way we can slowly steal Karla over to our department. Teach her a little CS. Add more required and optional courses in CS and Society. Boost her pay. It could be awesome. And Sociology already has its share of amazing faculty [84].

BIO-375, Principles of Pharmacology (Spring One), is over-enrolled by twenty-one students (33/12). I have the same worries about this course that I have about Psychopharmacology. But students haven’t been arrested yet. Anyway, I wonder where Bio will move those students. Other Spring-One 300-level classes also seem to be over-enrolled (20/12 in BIO-365, Microbiology and 20/12 in BIO-395, ST: Ornithology).

BIO-345, Advanced Genetics (Spring Two), is over-enrolled by nineteen students (31/12). It’s always over-enrolled by about nineteen students. We need another geneticist [85]. I assume they have a plan for BIO-345 over-enrolling, but I also think the normal plan involves Vida teaching extra students and, given the extra workload associated with being faculty chair, I don’t think she should take on that load. I also assume that, given the need for social distancing, if this is offered in person there’s no way to expand the labs.

ENV-145, Nations and the Global Environment (Spring One), is over-enrolled by eighteen students. It’s always over-enrolled. It has David Campbell. I’d take the class if I could. (Hmmm … maybe I’ll add it to my list of courses to take the next time I take courses.)

CHM-129, General Chemistry (Spring Two), is over-enrolled by sixteen students. That seems to be enough for another section. But who would teach it? I don’t think our Dean has the time.

SOC-395, ST: Regimes and Resistance, is over-enrolled by fourteen students. It sounds like a great topic, particularly given the state of our country [86].

CHM-363, Physical Chemistry I, (Spring One) is over-enrolled by twelve students (28/16). That seems like another case in which another section is needed. One can be a Dean and teach, right?

PCS-101, Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies, is over-enrolled by ten (35/25). I’m not surprised. It’s a particularly important topic. It has a popular teacher (see SOC-395 above). And some portion of Grinnell students probably interpret PCS as Pharmacological Studies [87].

I feel a bit bad about leaving out those whose courses are only over-enrolled by single digits, particularly since many sound really interesting [88]. But I have to stop somewhere.

A few other things

It appears that it’s harder to stop than I thought it would be. A few more notes that came up along the way

I’m amused that ENV-240, Environmental Chemistry, is listed as blank over blank ( / ). But I see that it also appears in Chemistry (7/24).

This may be the first time in recent memory that PHE-202, Coaching Methods, is not over-enrolled. I wonder whether that’s because students are worried about the lack of in-person opportunities.

I’m surprised at how large some of the special topics courses are. I generally think of holding special topics courses at lower caps because they are new topics that require extra effort, but I see a lot of fairly large special topics classes, including I/Robot and Shakespeare in Bars [89].

How do we have Bowling this spring? And why did I forget about it? Bowling is one of my favorite classes. I enroll every chance I have. But I scheduled my classes this spring. We also seem to have Rock Climbing, Indoor Soccer, Beginning, and more. Wellness is great (and something I encourage all of my advisees to consider), but can we really do in-person courses?

Why are only eleven students enrolled in PHI-101, Logic? Do prospective lawyers no longer come to Grinnell? Or perhaps I should say Only eleven students are enrolled in logic. That explains so much. [90]

Well, that’s what I have for this preregistration period. Congratulations on reaching the end of one of my longer musings. I’ll see you again in the spring for the next individually-advised-registration period [93,95,97].

[1] It’s almost like I didn’t take The Craft of Creative Nonfiction [2].

[2] Sorry Ralph!

[3] The traditional sleep study question: How long does it take you to fall asleep after your head hits the pillow. My answer, during the week, during the day (which is when I’m most tired)? About a minute.

[4] I dreamt that I was an adjunct in a time of Covid. Academicians will understand.

[5] If I ever have time to restart regular musing, I’ll write about the mastery learning model I borrowed/adapted from one of my colleagues.

[6] As I’ve said, I both respect and sympathize with the ITS staff. But institutional technology policies, which may not come from ITS, cause endless problems.

[7] I inherited this one. I probably won’t get it done until winter break. C’est la vie.

[8] That link requires sign. Also, as you will soon learn, it may disappear before the end of the year. And I bet it doesn’t get archived on

[9] Interestingly, individual learning also includes small group learning.

[10] On a positive note, when I’ve talked to ITS staff about my use cases, they’ve been good at thinking through how they can support those use cases in the new system.

[11] At least I recall her saying that.

[12] Well, one reader asked. But they are an influential reader.

[14] That’s not quite true. I enjoy writing for CSC 151 and I’ve been doing a lot of that. Perhaps I haven’t had enough chance to write non-pedagogical materials for fun. That also cuts out the fun writing I did about the primacy of LOLcats in a modern liberal education, which was mostly as a template for my Tutorial students [15].

[15] It took me a week or two to learn that the current generation of first-year college students knows as little about LOLcats as I did when they were popular.

[16] This endnote is a placeholder for what I decide to do. I wonder if I’ll remember to fill it in

[17] A course that was popular at my alma mater when I was an undergraduate and is usually as popular at Grinnell

[18] The same.

[19] Only an issue in recent years. And perhaps three decades ago.

[20] Officially, it’s an individually advised curriculum. But that name is long. And most of the other schools that have this kind of curriculum call it an open curriculum. So I’m sticking with that. Tenure is a wonderful thing [21].

[21] See the nightmare that opened this piece.

[22] In reality, we pretend that there are caps of 100, which ends up being mostly the same thing.

[23] Well, students pre-register. Or maybe students open register.

[24] In case anyone is reading this in the far future [25], 2020-21 was a time of a pandemic. Grinnell decided that in-person classes were not safe for Fall One and that any classes offered in person for the rest of the year needed to have significant social distancing.

[25] Not that that will happen. [26]

[26] Yes, Grammarly, I do intend to write that twice in a row.

[27] Not by vote of the faculty.

[28] I prefer the term semisemester. My first-year students call them quarters. Since we have four during the academic year and may have one during the summer fifths might be better. Perhaps quinticeps. I’ll need to check with a classicist [29].

[29] While looking for a good Latinate form, I discovered quintate, which, while not an appropriate term for a semisemester, does echo the real meaning of decimate. When we quintate, we remove one fifth, just as when we decimate, we remove one tenth. At least if we take the terms seriously.

[30] In some cases, two-and-a-half or three-and-a-half courses.

[31] I’m not a big fan of the idea of two-course terms; it strikes me as a much bigger teaching load than we’re accustomed to, particularly given the other aspects of online seven-week courses. Perhaps that’s a topic for another musing [32].

[32] If I ever have time to restart musing.

[33] That may change. Read on, Dear Reader.

[34] Because the CS department has a large number of students who currently reside in a time zone about 12–14 hours ahead of the U.S., we tried to make sure that one section of every multi-section course was offered at either 8:00 a.m. Central time or 7:00 p.m. Central time.

[35] The pairing may actually support students who want to work during the day. I hope that not too many of our students need to work full-time day jobs. The recent switch of most loans to grants may help.

[36] Or perhaps their technology is such that only asynchronous classes work.

[37] Scary, isn’t it?

[38] I still don’t have answers to my questions of For whom? and For what grade?

[39] On the other hand, my students in the remote intro studio course are raving about the awesome set of supplies Grinnell sent to them. I’m glad I’m at an institution that considers it appropriate to provide supplies rather than to force students to purchase them.

[40] Including endnotes.

[41] Fewer students enrolled.

[42] Don’t worry, we paired that with a way of cutting other kinds of faculty workload.

[43] Do you notice a naming pattern here?

[44] With variation!

[45] E.g., we should prioritize second-year students intending CS majors over first-year students.

[46] Sorry first-years. But you would not normally get to take CSC-213 in the spring.

[48] We consider this a form of Boyer’s Scholarship of Practice. I have a musing on these issues somewhere, but I’m too lazy to find it today.

[49] Or is it teams of four? I think we’ve used both.

[50] Done. I also included the SEPC.

[51] Since I capped the fall sections of CSC-151 at 36, I probably should not ask such questions.

[52] And Studio Art courses, I believe.

[53] I’m joking. There is no need to write to me to defend the course or to claim that I am mistaken about Grinnell students.

[54] I forgot to write down the numbers.

[55] No, not for the presidency or F-1 Visas. For these courses.

[56] Sorry MC [57]!

[57] I really want to refer to Monessa as MC-Cubed, envisioning her spinning the platters. MC Monessa Cummins, Master of Classics.

[58] He also said something about choosing catchier names for courses. Should our introduction to classical Greek become It’s all Greek to me?

[59] I always think of it as LMN-try.

[60] I apologize to my classical colleagues for the joke.

[61] Does Buffy count as Geek Drama? Firefly? The original Star Trek? Napoleon Dynamite? Am I now too old to figure it out?

[62] Apologies again to MC-Cubed, W-Joe, Angelo, and Dustin. Probably Anne [63], too, even though she’s no longer here.

[63] No, not President Harris.

[64] I keep wanting to spell it Newbury because of the bookstore(s) I used to frequent on Newbury Street.

[65] At least I hope he can be off at the Newberry, even though I’ll miss him. He’ll make a great director for the ACM Newberry program.

[66] A wonderful place to study Shakespeare.

[67] I’m also fairly out of it. It may be that the concentration has already been proposed and approved.

[68] It’s listed as Neurohumanties. Perhaps it’s about ties between humans and neuroscience.

[69] Yes, Ralph, I recall your story about teaching at 8:00 a.m. You’re a better man than I [70].

[70] And now I’m hearing that Yardbirds song in my head.

[71] Didn’t our Debate Team coach do journalism and write a book about writing, or something like that? [72]

[72] Should I stop advocating or referencing for individuals in my musings? I’m not sure. Opinions welcome!

[73] I’ve already far exceeded a reasonable amount of team.

[74] I will say that these are among the strategies necessary to survive teaching remotely during accelerated terms. Without some sort of adjustment, many of us would burn out. I know I would.

[75] Is it a sign of a mental defect that I’m happy that II, 2, Two, and two all appear in this sentence?

[76] For those surprised that we have the same number for what sound like very different topics, and for those who took MAT-218 back when it was entitled Combinatorics, there’s a lot of back story here. The short version is: MAT-218 is officially Discrete Bridges to Advanced Mathematics. Like MAT-222, which I think of as Continuous Bridges to Advanced Mathematics but appears to be called only Bridges to Advanced Mathematics, it’s intended to connects the basic curriculum in mathematics to the advanced curriculum. What do students need in that bridge [77]? A deep understanding of proof and proof techniques, the experience of having delved more deeply into a coherent particular theory, and other things I forget. While we figure that CS majors who learn some discrete field get enough related topics that they can handle the math in CS, we prefer that they choose bridges more relevant fields, like Graph Theory.

[77] Apparently not continuity [78].

[78] That was a joke about discrete vs continuous.

[79] And you thought I had problems with taking on too much work.

[80] No! Don’t!

[81] As well as some incoming congresscritters. We have a tripartite government: the house, the senate, and the church. No, the house, the senate, and the executive. Something like that.

[82] Hi Karla!

[83] Hint, hint.

[84] I hope that folks feel that CS does, too. I’m certainly proud of my colleagues.

[85] I have no idea if Bio wants another geneticist. But I do know that Advanced Genetics always over-enrolls by a huge amount.

[86] Did I say that already?

[87] Have I done that one to death yet?

[88] Lots of courses seem interesting. That’s traditionally another musing.

[89] Whoops. Shakespeare Behind Bars. At least it’s not Shakespearean Pharmacology.

[90] I should probably watch my sarcasm. Oh well, it’s too late now [91].

[91] I’ve learned my lesson well. You see, you can’t please everyone. So you’ve got to please yourself. [92]

[92] Am I alone in finding that random song lyrics pop into my head when I’m writing or saying something? And that some are wrong? Because the preface to that previous endnote should be It’s all right now.

[93] Whoo! I made it over ninety endnotes [94]. I should try to end before 100.

[94] At one point, that was endnote 93. And I’m now in a quandry. If I add Made it as an endnote to 100, then I’ll be at 100, thereby violating the endnote. I suppose I could at Failed. I’ll just leave things as they are.

[95] Did I hyphenate that correctly? I usually don’t hyphenate adverb-adjective pairs [96], but that seemed necessary.

[96] That one was correctly hyphenated.

[97] I do hope that I will find time to muse again before the next preregistration period [98]. However, given how long this one took [99], I’m not sure that I can count on that.

[98] Or whatever we call it.

[99] About seven hours, give or take.

Version 1.0 released 2020-11-21 .

Version 1.1.1 of 2020-11-21.