Chemistry demand exceeds resources

By Cara Miller

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Crowds, lines and understaffed services are common in the Student Union, but students in the Chemistry department are experiencing the same frustrations.

With only 32 professors to answer the raised hands of 7,000 students, the department has reached its capacity in faculty and facilities.

"This is the first time we've hit up against the edge of capacity," said Dennis Lichtenberger, head of the Chemistry department.

He said the classes with the biggest overcrowding are the freshman chemistry labs and organic chemistry labs.

"Enrollment in organic chemistry has more than doubled in the past five years," he said.

Phillip Keller, head of the General Chemistry division, said the increasing popularity of the pre-medical degree is the primary reason for the increase in students.

"Every student who has dreams of applying to med school has to take two years of chemistry," he said. "And we're stuck because almost every medical school in the country requires these classes for admission. And the lab sections are an integral part of the course."

The construction of the Chemistry and Biological Sciences building was expected to accomodate extra students but has only succeeded in adding more square footage.

"It's a big increase in available space, but the numbers of student stations stayed constant," Keller said.

In order to fill every lab station with the proper equipment, the department has had to dip into its reserve supplies. Usually there is an excess of pipets, beakers, and thermometers ready to replace broken ones.

"Right now when things break we don't have a replacement," Lichtenberger said.

Keller said they have been able to accomodate everyone in the freshman labs.

Still, some students feel the pressure of having a full capacity room.

"When we have to use the equipment we have to stand in line to use the weights," said Xochitl Gaxiola, an undecided sophomore.

For others it's just class as usual.

Susan Breckenridge, an exercise and sports sciences junior, said it's the kind of thing she expects to see every year.

"I don't know if it's normal, it's just all I've been exposed to," she said. "But as usual there is a waiting list of about 50 or 60 people to add the lab."

In order to satisfy the department's need for more faculty, Lichtenberger has issued two faculty searches.

He said he hopes to add two faculty members a year for the next five years, but typical start-up funds for each faculty member are around $300 to $400 thousand for the first three years.

"We're doing everything we can to stretch to meet today's need, but it's taking away the ability to plan for the future and future curricula," Lichtenberger said.

Keller agreed that the problem is bound to grow each year.

"Every year it affects the overall quality program in an incremental way," he said. "The problem is going to be there next year. Denying that is just burying our heads in the sand."

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