600 international ESL students. 3 levels of English. 3 academic tracks in 2 divisions: undergraduate and graduate. 4 or 5 classes per student. Classes cap at 20, 30, or 40. Classroom capacity ranges from 14 to 47. We have 27 classrooms and 65 (and counting) teachers. It sounds like one big multi-part GRE question with endless permutations. It is the reality of international education administration.
Students arrive in one week. Classes are getting cancelled, moved and added. Teachers are still being interviewed and assigned classes, while others are changing their plans and backing out of classes. We have run out of classrooms and I have wild visions of instructors teaching in hallways and lobbies, or even in tents.
As Heather Alderfer points out in her post,  it is important to be friendly with the Registrar. For academic administrators, it is crucial to maintain open channels of communication with key staff members in offices on campus.
International education has a lot of ambiguity and it is very different from traditional undergraduate education. In addition to language and cultural issues, there are a lot of variables that go into predicting whether or not a student will be able to arrive on time to begin their program. Will they get a visa? Can they get a flight? Does our program start date fall in the middle of a major holiday? At the last moment, will they decide not to get on that airplane?
The ambiguity makes traditional academic planning next to impossible. The one thing that remains consistent is ambiguity. We don’t know how many sections of various courses that we will need. We seem to always be on the tipping point between raising course caps and adding new sections. And if we decide to add a new section, will we be able to get a room? And will the room be available at a time that won’t conflict with other classes? If it does, we will need to rearrange all of the classes. And now can the teachers teach at these new times?
These are the questions that we spend the last few weeks wrestling with before an academic term begins. It is unending. As I write this post, I am checking my email to see what instructors have accepted their teaching loads, and as I get confirmation from them, I am getting messages from my administrative staff that their classes have been rescheduled.
I think it’s time to take a break to go out and buy my Registrar a box of chocolates.
Meg Palladino is the Creative Director and one of the Founding Editors of the University of Venus blog.