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Why looking at the academic calendar is a heartbreaking waste of time

It’s my last semester at UFV. I have few regrets about my time here, but I do have my fair share of disappointments. Chief among them? The predictably boring selection of classes available each semester.

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By Nick Ubels (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: January 9, 2013

It’s my last semester at UFV. I have few regrets about my time here, but I do have my fair share of disappointments. Chief among them? The predictably boring selection of classes available each semester.

UFV’s timetables, reaching back to 2005, are archived on the university website. Looking back, I can begin to see a pattern. Certain classes are repeated ad nauseum, offered at least once a year if not every semester, while a smaller pool of niche courses show up every few years. It’s understandable for lower-level requirements, but a little more frustrating when it comes to upper-level offerings. What’s most striking, though, is the vastly different picture UFV’s academic calendar paints; there’s no shortage of intriguing and varied courses approved for credit at UFV, yet mysteriously never offered.

Tricky scheduling, strict program requirements and a limited number of credits to go around are unfortunate, but mostly unavoidable obstacles that stand in the way of your typical undergraduate student being able to take all of the courses they would like to. I can accept that. I can appreciate those necessarily missed opportunities as casualties of, you know, actually graduating with a bachelor’s degree before my 20s start shrinking in my rear-view mirror. Abundant life exists beyond the pretty pink walls and profoundly handless campus clock of UFV.

But I digress.

In total, there are 13 upper-level English courses in the 2012/2013 course calendar that have never been offered once since at least fall 2007. Of these courses, only four were introduced sometime during the last five years, not that that excuses them. In fact, it’s more stupefying to see courses emerge from the tribulations of the rigorous approval process only to die before making it to the timetable.

Early in my post-secondary career, I used to browse the academic calendar with a dream in my little teenage heart, hopeful that I’d someday be able to take some of these captivating classes before my time ran out. After all, most course outlines contained that devilish little designation “expected frequency of course offering” followed by a colon and a promise: “annually.”

Now, a jaded senior, I look back and scoff. I’ve realized that even if I stayed on for another 10 years, it’s unlikely I’d see any of these classes make it to the timetable for reasons unknown, but certain as day.

One of these courses is Film 310: Introduction to Film Theory. UFV’s lower-level film classes are well-attended, and video production classes are increasingly popular, yet this, the only upper-level film course on the books, has never been offered in my time here.

Similarly, where is English 378: Creative Writing – Advanced Screenwriting or its older cousin English 377: Creative Writing – Film Adaptions of English Literature, both of which have never been offered since their inception? The creative writing students I’ve known are always looking for more options to fill out their English degrees with classes that bear some relevance on what they’re actually here for.

The examples of these kinds of classes are endless. Communications 320: Editing Principles and Applications. History 316: Violence and War in the West: A Cultural History. An undergraduate can only do so many Directed Studies, you know.

I could speculate all day as to why these perfectly interesting courses have gone ignored (budget issues, prioritizing “teachable” electives, it’s easier for professors to rehash the same material, elaborate conspiracy, etc), but the bottom line is that students are being short-changed on the promise of the academic calendar.

Am I ungrateful? I’ve considered it. After all, I’ve managed to scrounge together all the necessary requirements for my major, minor and a couple certificates along the way. And still I remain obsessed with these courses that I’ll never be able to take. I know these stupid little geeky dreams must die, but it’s so hard to let them go. I didn’t want to believe that UFV was such a self-limiting institution with designs on cookie-cutter graduates, but my fears are quickly being realized.

I’m reminded of an anecdote Apple CEO Steve Jobs relayed at a commencement speech a few years ago. (For the record, I’m a PC). He talked about how he accidentally took a calligraphy elective when he attended college. Unconventional, yes. But Jobs described how that single class, a brief emphasis on aesthetic principles rather than the regular rigours of coding became the cornerstone of his minimalist, eye-catching design for home computing devices.

Cookie-cutter degrees make cookie-cutter workers. So take a weird elective if you can, in spite of the timetable’s limitations, and you’ll help make your degree more than the sum of its credits. Isn’t that what university is all about?

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