Necessary Compassion when Enduring Bureaucracy: The Overcrowded UC

This past week I have been hearing and witnessing a lot of student-felt concerns about the impact of our overcrowded university campuses. But these concerns are not single-handed; staff and employees of the UC system are feeling the impact of additional student influxes every year.

The UC campuses have been increasing their student enrollment steadily every year, with a 14.7 percent total increase in resident freshman admission for Fall 2016 (across all UC campuses). UC Santa Barbara in specific went from 18,977 enrolled undergraduates in 2012 to 20,607 enrolled in 2015.

Students have been voicing concerns pertaining not only to class sizes, course availability, and graduation date estimates, but the congestion of the campus itself. Many are becoming concerned with the apparent increase in bike accidents and continuing unavailability of places to park bikes on campus.

It is a frustrating situation – to live, study, and pursue opportunities in a congested environment. For students and faculty alike, keeping things the way they are, the way they were, is the ideal situation.

This past week I witnessed circumstances specific to UCSB, and specific to my major. Many students in the Psychological & Brain Sciences department are facing the immense issues that accompany over-impacted majors. Senior-class students are not getting into the courses they need, sophomores and juniors are not meeting the schedules they laid out for themselves in order to graduate on time and in a sensible fashion. The student advising department was flooded with questions, concerned faces, and overwhelmed advisors when I last checked in – the line of students seeking compromise was out the door.

Many students are irate – especially if you are a senior, the thought of not graduating on time is not a thought taken lightly. Students who planned far ahead in advance, and should be graduating at the date which they arranged for, are kept locked in suspension due to reasons out of their control: overbooked courses, not enough graduate student teaching assistants, the list goes on. Graduating late means missing opportunities many students arrange beforehand (internships, jobs, fellowships), another quarter’s worth of tuition, and the stress of finding housing again – and only for the duration of however much longer they need to stay, which often does not match up with any lease.

An email sent out that made many students both concerned and irritated explicitly stated that the P&BS department did not have enough teaching assistants to accommodate the students looking to crash courses that were listed as full – which most if not all courses were, after the first registration pass time. The email additionally stated that senior-class students should expect to take all courses they needed to during the spring quarter, and the following summer sessions. It’s not a pretty thing to be told that your needs will not be accommodated, after three years of paying tuition and (hopefully) being a responsible student.

I understand the frustration, anger, and expectations unmet that many students are feeling from the overbooked state of our campus. But I also want to play devil’s advocate. And before I do, I want to say that I am very fortunate to be finished with the major – had I been in that line of students attempting to get into courses I needed in order to graduate, I doubt I would be writing this. When you are caught in the heat of frustration and self-need it is difficult to see from a wider perspective. And although I do not blame anyone for sticking with solely their perspective, I think it’s important we at least consider the bigger picture.

Students are furious, advisors are fed-up. It is not a good combination. And while I have to say that in my experience the advising department has been extremely helpful, they can also be blatantly unhelpful, simply because there is nothing to do.

TO THE STUDENTS:

Here’s the thing: it is not up to the advisors, or any employee or staff member of the sort, to make the administrative changes that we as students plea for in order for our needs to be met.

It is easy to take it out on the people that communicate to us the consequences of the impacted state of the university, but we have to remember that these people do not make the decisions that are affecting us themselves. They are not the ones who voted for the incoming freshman class to be increased, nor the ones who ignored the fact that increasing the student body without increasing the teaching body would lead to evident problems.

More-so, these people do want to help us.

It’s in their job description. Advising students means helping them through their time at the university. No one would have applied to this sort of position with an end-goal to make students miserable. It makes for a good movie, but it’s not real life.

So have some consideration, of the fact that they are as overwhelmed and affected by an impacted campus as we are.

Working in an over-booked position or an under-employed department is not a fun thing. Especially when people are lining up at the door to profess their needs and concerns in an accusing tone.

TO THE STAFF:

We are students, we are young adults attempting to put together and enjoy the ridiculous lives in front of us. Graduating on time is one of the things we would like to rely on.

So when issues come up, or we are forced to re-organize, re-think, and reconsider the path of graduation set out for us, let alone our plans for the next year, we are going to be upset. And we are probably going to let that frustration leak onto you – because we are young, still learning, and want people to look up to that can fix our needs.

The point is, we really don’t know what we’re doing. We get upset and we get frustrated over things that we probably won’t even think about the next year. Maybe a bump in the road such as dealing with a late graduation is a good learning experience. But that’s what it is, a learning experience.

We’re human too, and still learning how to be human.

So help us. Even if you can’t fix our problems, give us some consolation. Show that you care, that you wish things were different.

And PLEASE, do not yell at us. (I’ve seen this happen in several occasions, university-related and not). Do not question us about our planning or our long-term goals as if we are supposed to have it all figured out every step of the way. It’s unreasonable, because you’re 10-30 years ahead of us, and you don’t have it all figured out either. No one does. We are all human.

When we are forced to deal with the bureaucratic problems of a system such as the University of California’s – where decisions are being made without as much student or staff input as necessary, and in ways that seem like they could be heavily improved, compassion is a necessity.

Research has shown that positive feelings not only improves our ability to solve the problems in front of us through creative means, but also improves our satisfaction within the roles we fulfill. If we are to fix the frustrations in front of us – whether through a change in perspective or a tangible solution, spreading negativity and accusations will be of no help. Meet your advisor or student with a smile, an intent to understand how overwhelmed they’re feeling in concordance with your own stress, and you’ll both feel more positive about the situation. You’ll both feel more inclined, more motivated, and abler to help.

Even show some compassion to the legislators at the top of the ladder (if you can) – the ones we often blame for understaffed departments and congested campus climates. Providing education to more students is not a bad thing, expanding our innovative and intellectual community is a necessity. And although it could all be done in a more elegant fashion, it is far from an easy goal to accomplish with grace.

The point is, life is not always clean and organized. Humans are not always clean and organized. And systems created by humans are definitely not always clean and organized. Sometimes the ones at the bottom just feel the consequences of the mess the most – more than the administrators who make the lead decisions.

But it is important for us to remember that we all experience some sort of the frustration. And if there truly is someone who doesn’t, then we should probably learn from them, indict them, or list their position on Forbes as the #1 desired career.


References

Higher admission rates – https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/press-room/university-california-admits-significantly-more-california-freshman-students-makes-gains

Enrollment at the UC’s – https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/fall-enrollment-glance

Compassion, problem solving, and satisfaction – http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02856470

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