Steve Parks needs two semesters of a foreign language to graduate from George Mason University next spring, but not even his priority status as a senior could get him into a French class this fall.
Not only are the French 101 classes full, but so are the German, Spanish and Russian 101 classes.
Furthermore, the enrollment in each of the French and Spanish 101 classes exceeds 25, the maximum a state task force has recommended to let students practice conversation. One French class has 39 students.
Crowding has long been a problem at George Mason, the fastest-growing state-supported college in Virginia.
The worsening of the problem this year, university officials say, can be stated with two statistics: The number of students increased 2.9 percent this year, and the number of full-time students grew 3.9 percent. That means that in addition to having more students, students are taking more classes, an event officials say they could not have planned for.
The Fairfax County school enrolled 18,100 students this year, compared with 17,600 in 1986.
The crowding problems appear to be worst in English, communications, public affairs and foreign languages, according to university officials and professors in those departments.
Some professors, declining to be quoted for fear of retribution, say the university is throwing its resources into showy high-technology programs instead of the liberal arts, a suggestion university officials strongly deny.
Many students also are upset. "They should have anticipated that growth," said junior business major Rena Ray, 22, who was squeezed out of an accounting class. "They don't care."
President George W. Johnson said the university has a "public obligation" to meet the growing demands of the region and therefore always will be at capacity. "We don't have any margin," he said. "We fill every space."
But he promised to "see what we can do in terms of management to anticipate better and minimize that inconvenience" to students.
"We don't really know yet, but I'm prepared at this point to say we've got a problem," Johnson said. "If you've got even one student going through a hardship, that's a problem we should address."
Parks, 24, is unhappy because he will have to take an intensive course in the spring that crams two terms' worth of foreign language into one. But Martha Francescato, foreign language department chairman, said she also is concerned about the students who did manage to enroll this fall.
"Those who get in, I'm sure are not getting the right attention," she said. "If they want to practice a language, they cannot do it when there are 32 or 35 in a classroom."
On Sept. 15, the last day to register for classes, one student was so desperate to get into a class that she cried in Francescato's office. She got in.
Francescato said she would rather see the university's foreign language requirement abolished than continue with large classes.
In the public affairs department, every class that students must take to meet the social science distribution requirement has been full since the first day classes met, said department Chairman Harold F. Gortner.
In some cases, students majoring in public affairs, who get priority in registering, could not get into required courses, so they were allowed to substitute an elective.
"It gets increasingly worse every year," said Gortner. "There have not been faculty resources going into the College of Arts and Sciences in anything like the growth that's occurring."
In Gortner's department, the number of majors has grown from 750 to 1,100 since 1980, more than 45 percent, but the number of full-time faculty members has increased from 23.25 to 28.5 since then, less than 25 percent.
In the communications department, every one of the several dozen sections of all courses, except one upper-level specialty class, was full on the first day of class. Most had been fully enrolled since spring, meaning that freshmen and transfer students had no chance to get in.
"As soon as the stuff goes on line, it fills up," said Don Boileau, the communications department chairman.
George Mason requires every student to take a communications class to graduate. The intention is that they take it early in their college career, to give them help with other classes, but half the students who enroll are juniors and seniors because the enrollment crunch prevents them from signing up earlier.
The communications department has 150 majors and nine faculty members. In 1980, it had seven faculty members but only 36 majors.
In English, the demand for one-semester, upper-level composition courses, also a graduation requirement, was so great this year that the department added three sections a week before classes began, and there still were students who could not get in.
John Radner, the department administrative coordinator who is in charge of class scheduling, said everyone who "absolutely needed it" was allowed to enroll, and university officials were "very responsive" to requests for additional faculty.
During the spring term last year, the department offered 30 sections of upper-level composition. This spring, the university had planned to offer 35 sections, but as many as 55 may be necessary to keep up with demand and avoid a waiting list, Radner said.
Radner said "virtually every undergraduate class" in English is at capacity enrollment. "I don't think we've ever been like this," he said.