Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
And here we have it. Answers to your most fruitful questions straight from our registrar’s often lushly mustachioed mouth:
DG: What was registration like when you were in college?
MW: We had mass registration in the gym. At Swarthmore, we still do something like this for first-years on Orientation Saturday, following the Friday computer pre-registration, allowing them to settle — as much as possible — their registration before classes begin. In the old days, mass registration was the only way registration was done. My freshman year at Oberlin, I was so disappointed that my planned schedule wouldn’t work that I just sat down on the gym floor feeling stuck. After grieving a while, I got to my feet and started talking to the faculty. Within an hour, I had a workable schedule. When students are dismayed that their plans aren’t working, it helps to know that Drop/Add is the safety net.
DG: What class would you most want to take at Swarthmore?
MW: This is the hardest question. I love just reading the course descriptions of the courses we offer. I want to take every one. I would love to study all the modern and classical languages, as well as continue my studies in history, literature and anthropology of world cultures. After I do that, I would go back to my roots in the sciences. I used to be pre-med way back when, and I still love Chemistry and Mathematics in particular, and I would also love to study more in Biology and Physics. As an undergraduate, I won a prize for a paper using a quantitative approach to a Religious studies problem that had until then only been thought of qualitatively. I am fascinated by opportunities for collaboration across disciplines.
DG: What distinguishes a Writing class from a regular class? I find them a pain to schedule and I seem to actually do less writing…
[Note that I presented Mr. Warner with all of the written work that I did for a semester of Intro Linguistics: a problem set – in groups – each week, and 4 double spaced, non-WA’d pages for a PowerPoint presentation. He chose not to comment on the specifics.]
MW: I think the chat in the Gazette was really fruitful on this subject, and as someone noted there, Writing Courses are about learning to write within a particular subject area. From my perspective the one thing that sets Writing Courses apart from any other course with writing is revision — revision of papers where writing itself is an issue, not just the subject matter content.
I have a suggestion on how to satisfy the Writing requirement as painlessly as possible. If your major or intended major has a senior Writing course, the third W can wait until senior year. But if your intended major doesn’t have a senior writing course, I recommend you finish the Writing requirement in the first two years. Try to take one W per semester until you’ve completed the requirement. Take advantage of the opportunity to double up: Take Ws that also satisfy some other goal, perhaps distribution, or exploring a major, or, happily, because you are interested in the subject. In other words, try to take a Writing course that you want to take for at least two reasons. You may realize later that you like the writing element for its own sake.
DG: Does a small part of you rejoice in an I-told-you-so explosion of sadistic mirth every time you have to deny seniors their diploma on the grounds that they haven’t yet completed the PE requirement?
MW: I feel close to the whole class by the end of spring, so I really grieve when one of my seniors can’t graduate. And yet, my role is to be the gate-keeper. I will say “no” and it is devastating to me as well as to the student. The good news is that late finishers can and do finish. In some ways these are huge success stories, different than the normal success stories that categorize the class, but success in a special and good way nonetheless.
DG: What’s the most memorable (good or bad) boat you’ve ever seen at the Crum Regatta?
MW: Most of the boats are beautiful and creative and costumed and themed and neat to photograph, just really cool — and usually rather bad at floating. So curiously, the one I remember now that you ask, was a small canoe/row-boat thing that looked and behaved exactly like a well designed small row boat. The students got in, used real paddles and the boat moved like lightning and won in an instant. Not surprisingly, the boat’s builders were engineers. Impressive.
DG: Why can’t the registrar’s office put up all classes’ syllabi online? I think it’ll be good for people who want to know more about the courses or shopping the classes.
MW: Yes, sorry. This has been discussed in faculty committee, and what we find is that many faculty feel their syllabi are intellectual property and should not be shared on the web.
DG: What do you think is the reason so many 2013s have dropped/taken a semester off this year? Is this something the school is worried about? If so, what is the school doing to address this/make sure it doesn’t happen to the 2014s?
MW: The number of sophomores taking a semester off is a little higher than last year, but well within our normal range. My sense is there is not a problem here. Also, I tend to take the long view — sometimes students take time off for personal reasons, we expect them to come back, and it all works out.
DG: If you could challenge anyone at the college to an Old West-style duel, who would you pick?
MW: Really, no one. One of the most wonderful things about working at Swarthmore is that we really do peacefully discuss our differences. Quaker values to the max. We almost insist on getting along. And I’m not such a good gun handler anyway…
DG: Any recommended places to make out on the Swarthmore campus?
Love is too wonderful to limit to one place or another.
And now that you are all thoroughly swooning over that last answer (I thought he was going to pick Martin…), I bid you adieu. Look forward to future Burning Questions being caught on video, to add a new dimension of awkwardness. Post anyone you think deserves to be interviewed next in the comments section (and give thumbs up to ones you support).