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Academic departments and programs gear up for larger freshman classes

With Stanford’s announcement of plans to increase the size of its incoming freshman class, not only is the construction of new freshman dorms addressing the housing concern, but academic departments and programs are also gearing up for the population rise.

In terms of course programs like Thinking Matters and Introductory Seminars, Russell Berman, faculty director of Stanford Introductory Seminars, wants the experience for freshmen to remain unchanged in the future despite an expected increase in class size.

“I would hope that we’d be able to offer more classes in order to preserve one of the distinctive features of Stanford education, and that is relatively small classes,” Berman said.

Berman noted that Thinking Matters classes have three components: the lecture, discussion section and one-on-one tutorials. Even with increasingly large freshman classes, he hopes to continue offering tutorials in the future because students report them to be important learning moments.

“I think our initial response [to a size increase] would be to offer more sections because the number of classes we can offer is a function of faculty ability, and we haven’t talked about expanding the faculty,” Berman said.

According to Berman, changing the number of Introductory Seminars offered would be more difficult because most teachers involved do only one seminar per year; as a result, there would be a need to engage more faculty members in the program. Freshman in these programs are taught exclusively by Academic Council members who are tenure-track or tenured professors, although sophomore seminars are led by a broader range of teachers from across the University.

In terms of current changes taking place in Introductory Seminars (IntroSems), Joyce Moser, associate director of the Stanford Introductory Studies, indicated that an effort is being made to make it easier for athletes to take them.

“There are some students who have difficulty taking IntroSems because student-athletes sometimes have two practices a day and that makes it very tight, so we’re trying to get more people who can teach earlier in the morning or teach in the evening,” Moser said.

Language courses may also be affected by a larger freshman class.

According to Elizabeth B. Bernhardt-Kamil, professor of German studies and director of the Stanford Language Center, languages are budgeted with 15 students per section, with nine sections per lecturer. The largest increases in student enrollment would most likely be in Spanish, currently the most popular language course at Stanford.

Bernhardt-Kamil added that some languages that are currently under-enrolled could absorb more students without the need for increased staff.

“I always advise students: Look at something that you haven’t thought of before, and experience that rather than just doing what you did in high school,” Bernhardt-Kamil said.

“I think students by and large have had really positive experiences in the language programs. So I rely on those positive experiences to spread the word,” she added.

Contact Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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