Friday, August 28, 2009

Great Moments in Faculty Meetings

As chair, I have now been presiding over faculty meetings for fully 10 years. (Not one meeting. Just when we have meetings, I mean)

Sometimes, a shining beacon of comedy gold breaks through the tedium, and there are moments of transcendent joy. Today was such a day.

An administrator is describing to us the need to renumber courses. The current numbering system is: courses below 100, freshman. 100-199: pure undergrad. 200-299: mixed grad/undergrad 300+: pure grad

The administrator (a good guy, with an excellent sense of humor) says, "There are two reasons we have to renumber."

"First, we are running out of numbers. Lots of old courses still on the books, and it is hard to assign new ones." (Plausible, I admit, but a bit silly).

"Second..." (he starts to titter, through his nose, though trying to maintain a straight face) "we worry our students aren't getting enough credit for the difficulty of the courses. At other schools, students are taking courses with numbers in the 400s or even the 600s. Those seem a lot harder than courses numbered only in the 100s."

We all burst out laughing. But it TURNS OUT THAT THE ADMINISTRATION REALLY WANTS TO RENUMBER THE COURSES FOR THIS REASON! The higher the number, the harder the course!

At this point all hell breaks loose. People start shouting suggestions. I wish I had written them all down, but I only remember these three:

A. "We are like Spinal Tap University! Our courses are so hard, the course designations go to 1100!"

B. "We could just use course numbers from the real line between 0 and 1. There are PLENTY of numbers there!"

C. "Just multiply the existing course numbers by one million. Think how smart our students will be then! They will be geniuses if they make an A in PS10492488. They all get into law school!"

To the credit of my fellow admin guy, he was pounding the table and gasping for air at this point. It was truly hilarious. I am still chuckling about the incident even tonight. Great moments in faculty meetings....

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

perhaps they should think of renaming a "certificate" into something people actually believe is better than a minor.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the PoliSci department should start working on offering more classes that have fewer than 35 students.

Mungowitz said...

What in the world are y'all talking about?

The first comment is just obscure. I have no idea what you mean.

For the second comment: we are offering 40 courses that originate in Poli Sci this semester, at the level of 200 or below. Of those, 21 are smaller than 35, and in fact 15 are smaller than 20. Of those, more than half have space available. The 199 classes, in particular, are both very good classes AND have space available.

If there is a particular course you are concerned about, send me an email at munger@duke.edu, and I'll see what I can do.

shaun said...

Hysterical. Too bad you don't videotape your meetings. Makings of an outstanding Youtube gone viral.

Another suggestion. Use the Wittgensteinian numbering system from the Tractatus, with core courses having the simpler number e.g., 1.0, or better yet 9.0

and the courses that require those core courses exhibiting those very impressive appended numbers

e.g., 9.10

and any that require these later as prereqs with..

9.120, 9.121 etc.

This way you pull in the web savy crowd.

Imagine the conversations

"wow I had econ 9.1264."

"So what. Have you experienced econ 9.2."

Wild eyed neurotic philosophers and Bill Gates agree. This is the numbering system you want!

Robert S. Porter said...

I've never understood some universities numbering system. Around here it works pretty simply considering the standard degree is 4 years. 100 = First year. 200 = Second year. 300 = Third year. 400 = Fourth year. And thus yes, the higher the number the higher the difficulty.

Grad level courses are 800 and 900.

To me, this seems like an much more defendable system.

L. Kronecker said...

As RSP implies in his comment, it is useful for an undergraduate transcript to be easily interpretable by those unlettered fools in charge of graduate admissions at universities other than Duke. It's too bad that said administrator couldn't articulate this point, but then y'all couldn't have engaged in all that sidesplitting hilarity.

Anonymous said...

Here at OU, this idea of numbering "harder" course with higher numbers is actually true. 1000 level courses are fresheman courses, 2000 sophomore courses, 3000 junior courses, 4000 senior courses.
However, we tend to group them and "lower division" (1000-2000) and "upper division" (3000-4000). Graduate courses only go to 6000.

Mungowitz said...

Ah, if ANYONE had said, "Make sure that there is an underlying logic to your course numberings, and ensure that there are sequences of courses that make sense," then I would have been a fan.

I agree, completely, that such a scheme would improve both the major, and the information contained in course numbers.

But that was NOT the message.

Anonymous said...

So it turns out that inflation is not everywhere and always a monetary phenomenon.

-- Miracle Max

Anonymous said...

My experience in college was 400 level courses were the most difficult. Graduate courses may have had advanced subject matter but were not nearly as demanding of effort as 400 and 300 level undergrad courses.

John said...

What is the current practice at other universities? Is there any generally accepted way of course numbering?

I teach at Southern New Hampshire University in the graduate business program and all our courses are 600-700 numbers.

When I went to InterAmerican U back in the 70's, freshman courses were 100-199, sophmore 200-299 and so on. All were precdeded by letters so that MK-327 would be a marketing course normally taken in the 3rd yr. HR-483 would be an HR management course normally taken in the 4th yr.

How do employers view the course numbers of your graduates? Do they look at a course numbered 175, figure it is a freshman course and wonder what the graduate was doing taking it in his/her 3rd yr?

I think the real question here is what do other schools do and is there any kind of uniformity?

John Henry
www.changeover.com