The 2008-09 fact sheet that students can download off the UR Admissions homepage notes that the University has a 9:1 ratio of students to faculty. In addition, it states that 534 classes have less than 20 students that’s more classes than the 20-39, 40-99 and 100-plus ranges combined.

Taken together, the faculty-student ratio and the average class size statistic imply that classes at UR are, in the vast majority, intimate. That claim, however, is misleading, as UR does very little to promote the intimate classes it so happily suggests we have. In fact, those classes with between two and 19 students also include workshops and recitations. Once you take those out, the number is significantly different. And in the case of the smaller classes that do exist, while professors are ultimately responsible for making them as intimate as they choose, the classrooms themselves are a problem.

Most undergraduate classrooms fall into two categories: lecture halls and rooms with rows of desks reminiscent of high school. Neither type promotes discussion. Classes aided primarily by discussion (the social sciences and humanities) are generally held in buildings lacking in discussion-promoting classrooms. The exception would be classrooms in Rush Rhees Library where smaller rooms are filled with roundtables fit for discussion but these limited rooms are not enough to meet the demand single-handedly.

Indeed, the quality of class facilities is not improving. Look to Morey Hall 505, which used to have long, wooden tables formed into a circle. Over the summer, the school replaced those tables with individual desks that students can plug laptops into and then plug the desks into the wall even though the desks’ cords can’t reach the wall outlets. Not only is this a waste, but it also removes the ability to have roundtable thought. And it is not fair to ask students or professors to spend time and effort to re-arrange an entire room to suit a seminar format every class.

While UR has a number of academic accomplishments, it lags behind where it should be in its number of seminar rooms. If the administration continually attributes raises in tuition to increases in the quality of our academics, then maybe it should also look at some of the most basic ways to improve in that area and that starts, as always, in the classroom.

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