Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

The Bureaucracy of Philosophy

Add/Drop Procedure Harder to Understand Than Kierkegaard

By Colin Relihan

Confusion worthy of Hume, a hell worthy of Sartre. So begins add/drop season at Georgetown. And nowhere are its terrors more apparent than in the philosophy department. For you see, there’s a horror there worse than any 8:50 a.m. lecture on John Stuart Mill – bureaucracy.

It’s the department’s specific policy on switching classes that makes it especially bothersome. Normally, to add into a class, one merely needs the approval of a professor, a dean, a registrar and a leprechaun. Okay, you don’t actually need leprechaunal assistance at Georgetown, but there’s nothing like a short, green-clad Irish man to convince even the most skeptical professor that you should be in his upper-level English course.

There’s no pot of gold at the end of the philosophy department, however. Instead of permission from a professor, all class additions must go through the department.

Over the past week, I’ve noticed numerous students, myself included, walk off annoyed as professors tell them to head to New North. We’re all waiting to get into that class we’ve wanted to take, we walk up to the professor, expecting to finish the arduous process, and instead we get a “Sorry, I can’t do anything for you.”

And before you know it, everybody gets annoyed, bottles up too much anger and lays waste to philosophy in all its forms, screaming, “Out on thee, foul philosophy! I wanted to study Locke’s theory on private property, but instead, let’s destroy the campus! Private property? Pah!”

Put down the hemlock for a moment and relax. There are good reasons for the new policy. The haphazard nature of add/drop sometimes leads to classes overloaded with students and seniors locked out of classes that they need to graduate. Out of the hands of professors, the department can prevent scheduling problems and bring light and order into the darkness of add/drop. Plato would be proud.

The reality is something else entirely. For those cast into the pit of philosophy add/drop, their final abode is the second floor of New North, the land of philosophy. But unlike hell, the department’s add/drop process is only open from 1 to 4 p.m. every day. Nonetheless, the throngs of students lining up in the cramped hallway an hour or more ahead of time carry the same grizzled looks as the damned. A denizen of this dark alley’s only hope is that his class, PHIL-LET-ME-IN, will soon appear on the department’s list of open classes.

It’s a lot like Christmas that way, except the elves go around debating the existence of the good, Santa’s an existentialist and the idea “naughty and nice” doesn’t exist.

Come over on Tuesday, your class is closed. Wednesday, it’s open. With people dropping and adding classes all the time, this has always happened. Never, however, have so many wasted their afternoons en masse for the privilege of rejection, a privilege that was once merely an after-class meeting with the professor.

Furthermore, the new and improved system is open to other inconsistencies not found before. If you happen to stand in line behind someone who just dropped the class you want, you win. Someone in front of you with the same class wish, but without such a fortuitous line position as you, will get shafted.

The queue shaft – I think Kierkegaard wrote about that.

Meanwhile, due to the department’s extended 1p.m. to 4 p.m. schedule for add/drop (I believe it’s the same as the credit union’s expanded schedule), the Georgetown University philosophy has created a new axiom of knowledge, based on the premise of “winners write the history books.”

Winners don’t have afternoon classes.

For those with classes at 1:15 or thereabouts, the department’s new and improved system does them no good. By the time they get to New North, their desired classes may very well be closed.

In case you’re keeping score at home, before, one could merely find the class’s instructor and get him or her to sign the add/drop slip without the 1 p.m. deadline.

At the end of the day, the philosophy department has created what is essentially a class lottery. For housing, a lottery is fine. Where you live is where you live – besides, college housing is, no matter how nice, college housing.

But this is a university. In fact, this is a university with a fine philosophy department. A dorm is a dorm, but classes come in a variety of types, sizes, shapes and styles. They shouldn’t be subject to some system of random bureaucratic selection.

Have a problem with professors overloading classes? Simple. Create a specific policy that doesn’t allow them to do so. Problems with the makeup of classes or senior philosophy majors without required classes? Again, there are ways to have professors address these issues flexibly without resorting to state planning commission-style tactics.

Whether or not students go to their professors for add/drop may not seem like a big decision, but it is important. Telling a professor you want to be in his or her class and explaining why it’s something you want to study, even if a negative response follows, is better than the alternative. And what is the alternative? The philosophy department is unfortunately leading the way with its “innovation.” Leave the bureaucracy and central planning as topics for political theory classes and let us talk to our professors. That’s why we’re here.

And while we’re on the topic, can somebody explain Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason to me? I slept through that lecture – last time I take an 8:50 a.m. class.

Colin Relihan is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.

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