Bruininks and the U’s big issues

The president needs to focus on a couple of key issues to accomplish his goals.

Last week the Daily published an interview with University President Bob Bruininks covering issues surrounding the University’s realignment plan. Bruininks focused on defending himself and his stance on realignment, but was characteristically vague when asked about specific improvements and financial issues related to the University’s overhaul.

Bruininks continuously claims that he is “deeply committed” to affordability and student success, which are laudable goals, and it seems that his proposals in these areas for scholarships are good. And his defense of closing the General College is somewhat credible: It doesn’t do any good to admit disadvantaged students if they are going to fail at high rates. What he didn’t mention specifically were other ways to solve these issues: smaller class sizes and better academic advising.

As pointed out Monday in a letter to the editor, teaching assistants are overwhelmed by labs with far too many students who simply need those classes to graduate. In big lecture-style classes, size might not be as critical an issue as in labs or discussion blocks, but lectures with attached labs should be limited to what the labs can handle, and in many cases, only open to students for whom they are required, if enrollment is too high.

Advising is also severely wanting at the University. While the huge variety of classes in unlikely subjects is a huge attraction to prospective students, it might be a reason for abysmal graduation rates. With so many choices, students can take classes full-time for years without making progress toward a degree. This is where academic advisers must step in and help students balance that class on science fiction movies with his or her chemistry degree. Still more issues crop up when switching majors, adding minors or doing anything between two colleges. All these choices make a good adviser critical to saving a student from a seven-year undergrad term.

Bruininks is not wrong to want big things for the University, but focusing on a couple of major issues would go a long way toward accomplishing his goal.