Friday classes: Students avoid them, and many professors do not want to teach them. But as the number of courses meeting on Fridays has gone down in recent years, some administrators and faculty members are concerned that a compressed academic week encourages students to party more and makes it difficult for students to take the classes they want.
Last fall, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences offered 707 classes to Yale College and Graduate School students on Wednesday, compared to only 340 classes on Friday, according to the Office of the Registrar. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday fell in between with 679, 670 and 612 courses, respectively. While some professors said the shortened week is unacceptable because it inappropriately caters to students who do not want to take early morning or Friday classes, others said a shorter week is a natural and effective part of college life.
Anthropology department chairman William Kelly said he thinks the compression of the week has become “more obvious and more frustrating” to students and faculty members over the past 10 years. Kelly said he makes it a point to teach his courses on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and while he tries to persuade the professors in his department to do the same, he does not have a great deal of authority in this area.
“In this one department there are 23 faculty offering [about] 40 courses and if you try to pack them into three and a half days, it’s going to reduce the opportunity for students to take the courses they want,” he said. “But the faculty say the students won’t take any courses that aren’t scheduled on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.”
Kelly said that although some students have legitimate activities on Thursday nights — such as music, theater, or sports — he believes there is a definite correlation between increased student partying and the compressed course schedule. Although he said he is unsure of the direction of causality — whether students party more because they do not have Friday classes, or whether professors do not offer classes because students party on Thursday nights — the situation is a “mutual, downward spiral” for both professors and students.
“I don’t think that’s a very efficient way of running a major teaching university,” he said. “Somebody has got to start drawing more attention to this problem.”
English professor William Deresiewicz said that the issue of the short academic week is not a new one and that he thinks it is “ridiculous” that people are making it a major issue. He said the numbers do not suggest that there are more Tuesday-Thursday classes than Monday-Wednesday classes, indicating that professors select class days based on the number of hours their courses require, not providing convenient long weekends for students. If the schedule serves the interests of both professors and students, Deresiewicz said, the arrangement should not be artificially corrected.
“It’s not like professors are sitting around the rest of the time and it’s not like students are, either,” he said. “If it works for everybody, then the administrators should mind their own business.”
But Physics Department chair Ramamurti Shankar said his department has never sought to avoid scheduling class on Fridays. He said courses should be scheduled based on the amount of time the professor needs to teach the material, not the extracurricular or social schedules of the students.
“Are you saying that if you have a hangover we should not meet? I do not get it,” he said. “The expression is TGIF, not TGIT.”
Deresiewicz said the idea of a weekend beginning on Wednesday or Thursday night has been present at colleges for years, and he thinks it would be a mistake to enforce scheduling standards that would disrupt the natural rhythm of Yale students.
“My guess is that they’re getting up late at least Monday through Thursday because college students naturally fall into this rhythm where they’re working all night and sleeping a few hours very early in the morning,” he said. “Unless someone could show me that it’s a problem, I think the natural ecology of these things should be respected.”
Yale College Registrar Jill Carlton and Senior Deputy Registrar Diane Rodrigues said while there are a number of logistical issues that determine scheduling, student life has a substantial influence on course patterns, rather than the other way around. In fact, they said, student life is given almost equal consideration as academics when it comes to scheduling classes. They said they often hear that professors do not want to teach early morning classes because students will be tired, or late afternoon classes because some students have athletics.
Some students, like history major Mark Hanin ’07, who said he has never had class on Friday except for Directed Studies, said they use Fridays to catch up on work and rest, not to sleep off a hangover. The class schedule cannot be blamed for encouraging students to spend more time partying and drinking, Hanin said.
“I think the students that want to do that anyway would, and for the rest of the people it would just be an extra inconvenience,” he said.
Chemistry major Sarah Mendillo ’07 said she thinks it would be nice for science students at least to have the option of taking more classes that do not meet on Fridays, which she said might be possible if professors extended the length of classes and offered them two days a week. More Yalies might be inclined to take science courses if this were this case, she said, though she does not think a Friday meeting is a good reason not to take a class. But Mendillo said she knew what she was signing up for when she selected her major.
“I don’t really see it as being unfair,” she said. “I guess if you choose a major, you choose the territory.”
Kelly said discussions with colleagues at other universities have led him to believe the issue of the shortened week is not unique to Yale, and he said there are ways to help solve the problem. He said the administration could come up with a formula — requiring freshmen and sophomores to have class meetings for at least four days a week, for example — which would put pressure on the faculty and give the department chair or director of undergraduate studies more credibility in approaching professors.
The Yale College Course of Study Committee is currently evaluating the issue of course scheduling, Carlton said.