Between 2008 and 2011, the English department approved professor John Knapp to teach a number of upper-division courses at UNM West multiple semesters in a row, but the classes continuously failed to meet the enrollment quota.
The classes were canceled, and he wasn’t paid for them.
Knapp decided to take matters into his own hands, and when he was assigned to teach a class called Lucifer in Literature at UNM West last semester, he printed fliers on bright yellow paper and posted them around the UNM West and main campuses.
“I used to be in a band that played on the strip in Hollywood, so fliering was something you really need to know how to do,” he said.
After fliering, eight students signed up for the class, the minimum number for the class to not be canceled at UNM West. This semester, when asked to teach the course again, he “went nuts” with the fliers.
“I worked hard to make something that looked appealing and then I put it everywhere I could possibly think of,” Knapp said.
This semester, the number of students who signed up for his class doubled.
The practice of advertising classes with fliers is a fairly common one. Adjunct professors such as Knapp, and particularly those who teach more subject-specific, upper-division courses, must promote their classes themselves to ensure the classes are not canceled.
Self promotion can be crucial because often for adjuncts, no classes means no money.
Professor George Sieg, who teaches three upper-division history courses at UNM West and one lower-division course at the main campus, said he depends on teaching his classes to pay off his education. Sieg has a doctorate in esotericism.
“It was actually a bit stressful to me, because I knew if these courses didn’t make it I would be economically crushed, (I depend) on teaching the maximum, like four classes for an adjunct, just to pay off my education,” he said.
Sieg teaches three classes at UNM West: History of Esotericism, History of Occultism and History of Magic. Like Knapp, Sieg put in work to promote his classes to ensure enough students enrolled.
“I went to all the advisers and advisement offices and gave them fliers and course descriptions,” he said. “I fliered the main campus a number of times — I even took fliers off campus a number of times to stores and places on Central.”
UNM West struggled for a while to fill its classes. The Rio Rancho campus, which moved into a new facility in January 2010, only offers 300- and 400-level classes and employs only adjunct professors.
UNM West Executive Director Beth Miller said that this semester, the campus planned for 88 sections of classes, but had to cancel nearly a quarter of them, or 21 sections, due to low enrollment.
In comparison, 6 percent of the courses on main campus were canceled due to low enrollment, said Terry Babbitt, the vice president of enrollment management. At UNM West, classes must have a minimum of eight students enrolled. On main campus, that number varies across departments.
But fliering to promote classes is not exclusively a UNM West phenomenon. Professor Xuan Chen, for example, hung a number of elaborate fliers to promote his “Experiencing the Arts” class. The class is taught online and was not canceled. Chen declined to be quoted for this article.
Members of UNM West’s administration said that as they work more closely with departments and students to see what classes would be best to offer at their campus, they anticipate the number of classes canceled due to low enrollment to go down.
And it already has, if only slightly. In the spring 2012 semester, 35.1 percent of classes were canceled due to low enrollment. In the fall 2012 semester that number fell to 25.5. In spring 2013 it was down to 23.8 percent.
Sieg said that only once was a class he was slated to teach at UNM West canceled. The class was History of Christianity and it was scheduled for last summer.
“I also didn’t understand that I was supposed to be advertising,” he said.
Sieg said that although departments don’t formally announce to instructors that they should promote classes themselves, it’s becoming the norm.
“I think it’s becoming assumed by some of the more enthusiastic instructors that they should advertise their courses,” he said.