Dropping the Subject

Legal_ScalesOfJustice_WEBThere are few sweeter, sourer patches in the academic year than drop and add, an imaginary space in which students do things to their schedules and to the minds of their professors.

In the world of academic registration, drop and add are the scales of justice. We can tell ourselves that there are no value judgments in students’ choice of classes. We can remember that students work, and have other required courses, or commute too far for early morning or late evening classes.

But that sensible perspective only helps so far. Drop and add  inevitably feels like a referendum.

Like finals week and spring break, drop and add  has its own temporality. On some campuses, where drop and add can last for two weeks, the experience is — to give a shout-out to a friend’s band — life in a blender.

But even if drop and add comes and goes in a brief span, it’s still an attenuated chaos, a frantic slowness, in which neither professors nor students quite know what’s up.

For the professor whose ego is on the line, a drop can cue unresolved memories of high-school cliques, when to be dropped by the cool kids was the worst of imaginable fates. And our students are, after all, still the cool kids — we want their attention and their admiration, or at least their attendance and endurance, to make our classes work.

A drop can feel personal. Harriet’s class has more students than mine. And Elmo dropped my class and has waitlisted hers. Pass the bitter herbs.

A consoling friend advises that the drop isn’t personal. But if it isn’t about you, could it be about your field? Which only makes the fleeing student look like an unwelcome referendum on your entire discipline.

An add, on the other hand, is the problem for which one boasts. My course is already capped, and Advising has added two more students!  Terrible news, or at least one wants it to sound terrible, but in the darkest recesses of the academic heart the faculty member may be enjoying a moment of tortured pride. It’s a burden to be popular, or to teach on a popular subject. Let me tell you how much I’m suffering with my adds.

As the semester’s gears grind through, the only enrollment certainty for many of us is the fact that students take classes for all sorts of reasons: enthusiasm, love of learning, a deeply questioning spirit, hatred of mornings, the teacher’s reputation, the work load, and what their friends are taking.

Drop and add  is the market’s moment of correction. The new sobriety. An attack of the sensibles. Whatever mysterious cocktail of interests and reluctances led your student to enroll in your class to begin with may lead to a wiser, more considered decision to drop.

It might be the best for both of you. A drop may be an add by other means.


You can follow me on Twitter @WmGermano


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