As the statistics professor droned on about stem-and-leaf theory, a distant voice came filtering through an open window. But this voice wasn't droning. It was shouting -- through a bullhorn. Soon, 5,000 more voices could be heard shouting back.
"Listen to that!," stage-whispered a wide-eyed Kimberly Schindel. "That must be the demonstration on the drill field. They sound angry."
Well they might. As Kim Schindel began her sophomore year at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg two weeks ago, the budget blues descended on her and the entire campus with a vengeance.
In response to a $9 million cut ordered by Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, Virginia Tech laid off more than 100 teachers over the summer and applied a surcharge of at least $66 to every undergraduate. Further reductions are expected to be announced today .
Since classes reconvened on Aug. 28, the Tech community has talked of little else but The Cuts. Last Monday, the largest student demonstration at Tech since the Vietnam War was held on the grassy commons in the center of the campus.
Kim chose to attend her noon-to-1 stat class rather than participate. But she said she was "curious and concerned," since she has been affected in a direct, disspiriting way.
Of the five classes she is taking this semester, only one has fewer than 50 students enrolled in it -- and that class meets at the collegiate witching hour of 8 a.m. Last year, even though many of Kim's classes were required freshman courses, class sizes averaged about 35.
Meanwhile, Kim has noticed that only half the lights are on in the parking lots at night. When she ate lunch at Dietrick Hall cafeteria on Tuesday, she learned of this year's "jumbo" turkey sandwich. It contains only one slab of meat. Last year, it contained as many as you wanted.
And when Kim tried to register for classes in late August, she could sign up for only 6 of the 19 credits she needed because teacher cutbacks had caused sections to fill up quickly. Kim later "force-added" the necessary classes, but not without some begging and some fancy footwork.
It adds up to "a college under siege," as one student was overheard telling another in the Newman Library on Tuesday afternoon. For Kim, a 19-year-old from Fairfax, the siege atmosphere only adds to the uncertainty she is already facing.
Still without a declared major, Kim plans to delay that decision until the spring. She is toying with a major in family and childhood development, after considering biology, communications and several others over the last 13 months. But she may decide on something else altogether.
"What's my major?," she asks, with a sigh, then a rueful smile. "Question mark is my major. And it probably will be the next time you ask me, too."
This is the 10th in a series of regular reports on Kim Schindel's life as a college student. Thanks to Kim's kind cooperation, and the blessings of her family, I plan to follow Kim's progress throughout her time at Virginia Tech. My aim is to provide an honest look at how a young person from the Washington area handles modern college life.
There could never be a good time for the turmoil at Tech. But if it had to land on Kim, her sophomore year was probably best. She is much more comfortable at Tech than she was a year ago.
To walk across the campus with her is to have conversations interrupted constantly as she says hello to passing Kevins and Jennifers and Andreas. Mostly quiet in class last year, she called out answers from the back row of her social psychology class on Monday afternoon -- and they were right.
She breezes around Blacksburg in the red 1989 Subaru she bought last month. She speaks to her boyfriend by long-distance phone only twice a week (it was every night last year), yet she says the reduced contact has deepened the relationship, not strained it. And she hasn't missed a class or stayed up past 1 a.m. since school started.
"You just have the feeling of experience as a sophomore," she said. "It's so different. You're not floating around in an unfamiliar place."
Nor is Kim confined to a 12-by-12 dormitory room, as she was a year ago. She lives with three other sophomore women in a brand-new furnished four-bedroom apartment two miles west of campus. The complex has a jacuzzi, a weight room and a kidney-shaped swimming pool with built-in gas grills beside it. It isn't heaven, but it's close.
Still, creature comforts are not Kim Schindel's top priority. Finding the proper academic path is.
"Once I decide what I want to major in, it'll get a lot easier for me," she says, as we sip tapwater-on-the-rocks on the living room couch in her apartment. "At least I'm not alone. A lot of people I know have set their minds to one thing, and then they switch. Maybe I'll just run into something by chance. Or I may decide to teach. My mother always says it's a good occupation to fall back on in case your husband gets transferred. But I really don't know for sure."
Clearly, late 1990 is an unsettled time -- for a certain sophomore, and a certain school.