CMC stands as a premier liberal arts college, not just in California or the West Coast, but also in the United States. That is something we are reminded of in the capabilities of our peers, the talents and wisdom of our faculty members, and, at times, by the rankings of magazines and organizations. But the problem I see arising, the difficulty that I see in coming forth in CMC’s future, is one that depends entirely on size. No, not – as the title might suggest – the size of our own students, but rather, the size of our school. CMC has preexisting caps set on the number of students allowed to be in attendance at the college (around 1,400). While this cap is not unreasonable, and not too far off of our current student population, it represents an arbitrary but key distinction between our school and others like it.
One of the reasons I chose CMC was its size. The dining hall a convenient walk from my dorm, every one of my professors knew my name by the end of the first two weeks of school – the size of each and every facet of the school seemed just to make sense. For many students at other schools across the country, that was likely also their reality and their college experience. But, for many more, it likely was not. While CMCers are rightfully aware of what makes them so lucky, I think we sometimes forget where that sense of appreciation can come from. Many of our facilities are LEED certified, and we have world-class institutions like the Kravis Center, which house equally brilliant professors. And yet we are the sum total of a history of smallness, something we have to celebrate, to maintain and to cherish.
One embodiment of the smallness has to do with our existence as a liberal arts college. We are practical and thoughtful people with a desire to learn, mixed equally with a pragmatism that ensures that we get things done as well. I love this coexistence, of things equally academic and grounded.
The experiences of my friends at universities and colleges around North America differ radically from those at CMC, with lecture halls filled with hundreds of people, TA-taught discussion classes, a sense of being lost among thousands of other students and maybe most importantly, no connection to their schools. While CMC is certainly not nearly at that level, there are some signs that strike me as worrisome. Transfer students to CMC this year lost out on the residential experience when they were forced to live off campus, something I cherished about my first year. This simple difference between students divides us by preventing us from interacting with transfer students and allowing for their fullest involvement in campus. Even the large size of the freshman class meant particularly cozy dorm rooms, requiring many triples and the reshaping of Stark Hall’s lounges. That’s not to say that certain transfer or freshman students shouldn’t have been accepted. I just hope that their experience does not become hindered by a need for size and numbers.
CMC is just as much defined by its size as it is most other features we celebrate. Absolutely, with more students come more tuition, a larger endowment and other great things worthy of celebration. But growth for the sake of growth negates what made us so great in the first place. So I call for CMC is to establish what size is it that we want, to ensure that the college we know can continue to serve its students as well as it can.