Amid Shortage, Psychology Department Opens Two New Senior Seminars

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About 85 expectant psychology and cognitive science graduates were left unable to enroll in senior seminars for the spring 2020 quarter, after a Feb. 26 email announced that these courses received more applicants than the UC Santa Cruz psychology department prepared for.

The department has since added two additional seminars, with the possibility of adding a third at the conclusion of second-pass enrollment. Capped at 30 students each, these new seminars encompass about two-thirds of the previously classless students. Still, this leaves about two dozen psychology and cognitive science seniors without permission codes for these required courses.

The number of presumptive four-year psychology department graduates increased from 294 in 2019 to 445 in 2020, if both transfer and frosh enrollees are considered together. 

But professor Phillip Hammack, psychology department chair, said this spring’s shortage of senior seminars is more the result of an undersupply of faculty than an oversupply of students — a number the department has little say over. This academic year, the university employed only 24 full-time cognitive science and general psychology faculty, a low number by most standards. 

“For some comparison data, in 2017 we graduated [536] students in psychology or cognitive science with 27 faculty,” said Hammack in an email. “That same year, UC Riverside graduated 420 students with 39 faculty.”

The two added seminars came at the cost of two upper-division lecture courses — Psychology 114 and 142 — whose sizes had already been reduced due to a lack of available teaching assistants. Most students who would have enrolled in these courses are second and third-year students, Hammack said.

“We might see a bit of a ripple effect in terms of their graduation timeliness,” Hammack said. “But I’m hoping that with changes we make over the next few years, that won’t happen.”

Such changes, he said, include increasing the number of full-time faculty employed by the department from its current roster of 24 to a number closer to 40. Already, five new faculty are slated to join the department in fall 2020. Two have already been hired, and the psychology department is currently in deliberations over the remaining three.