Many Yalies would call this a typical Tuesday: A 10:30 language class in William L. Harkness Hall, an 11:35 lecture at the Law School, lunch on the run and then a 1:30 seminar in the Hall of Graduate Studies.
But if professors follow a recent recommendation from administrators regarding course scheduling, busy days like this one may become a rarity for the average student. The catch is a lighter Tuesday schedule would likely come at the expense of their Friday mornings.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler sent a memo earlier this month to administrators in academic departments recommending they schedule no more than 10 percent of their course offerings during any one class time slot. The suggestion came on the heels of a Yale College faculty meeting discussion last spring in which professors and administrators acknowledged that too many courses are being offered in a small handful of popular time slots, limiting student choice and straining classroom availability.
The bunching of classes into only a few slots has had its effect on classroom availability and students’ schedules. It is difficult to reassign a lecture course to a new classroom when enrollment exceeds available seating, Senior Deputy Registrar Diane Rodrigues said. And many students complain that all of the courses they wish to take meet at the same times.
Faculty members will submit tentative course schedules for the 2008-2009 school year on Feb. 8.
“The problem really occurred in part because everyone has their [favorite time slots], and many people didn’t realize how bunched up courses had become until we took a look at it,” Salovey said.
Registrar’s Office data indicates that 110-minute courses, which includes most weekly seminar, held on Tuesday and Wednesday from 1:30 to 3:20 made up just under 24 percent of those courses held in the fall 2007 semester. Over 18 percent of lecture courses were held on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays from 11:35 to 12:25 or 12:50. The most unpopular times for 110-minute courses last fall were Monday mornings and all day Fridays; combined, only 4.25 percent of those courses were held in either slot. And under half of 1 percent of lecture courses — only two, in fact — were held late afternoons on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.
Although faculty discussed diversifying course times last spring and professors generally agreed that courses should be more spread out, administrators said the issue came up too late in the year to have much of an effect on this year’s classes. Salovey said the memo served as a reminder to departments about the recommendation.
The memo also suggested that directors of undergraduate and graduate studies and department chairs solicit three possible teaching times for each course from professors. This would allow departments to turn to a professor’s second or third choice if his or her first choice turns out to be too popular.
The recommendation is the first attempt to coordinate scheduling between departments in the University, administrators said.
“There’s no real central body coordinating when courses are being taught,” Rodrigues said.
Although it is unclear how many departments will follow the recommendations, Rodrigues said she knows the History Department — the department with the most undergraduate course enrollments in the University — is actively implementing the plan. Reductions in a single large department’s demand for classrooms would have a “grand impact” on scheduling, she said.
History Department chair Laura Engelstein said although department administrators have asked faculty to adjust their course times, she does not yet know how effective the plan will be.
The 10-percent suggestion mainly affects social science and humanities departments, because science departments with more rigid course requirements already largely ensure their classes do not overlap inappropriately, administrators said. On Science Hill, “the effort’s been made for years,” Chemistry chairman Gary Brudvig said.
Physics Department chair Megan Urry said her department deliberately schedules introductory courses that fulfill the same requirements to overlap, although she said this may lead to the Physics Department’s courses appearing “clumped.”
Reasons behind the concentration of course times vary. Administrators and professors said student tastes have as much of an effect as faculty members’ own preferences on course times. While professors may not mind teaching an early-morning class, some said they fear scaring off potential students who would not want to wake up for a 9 a.m. lecture.
Some said the concentration reflects a cultural shift within the student body and the faculty.
“What’s tended to happen at Yale College is that both students and faculty like a long weekend,” said Religious Studies DUS Steven Fraade. “We need to get off the concept that the weekend starts Thursday night.”
Added Salovey: “The desire not to have early morning classes on the part of students, the desire not to have classes on Fridays by students and faculty — those kind of cultural expectations have only grown stronger in recent years.”
But some suggested the phenomenon is in response to practical academic realities, like athletic practices in the afternoons and weekly departmental meetings.
“We actually have a rule … that we don’t teach Tuesday afternoons as of four o’clock,” anthropology DUS David Watts said. “We need to have that time slot open so when we do have meetings, everyone can be there.”
Many other departments have their meetings at the same time, Watts said.
The History Department’s similar meeting schedule may have led to a glut of history seminars held Tuesday afternoons, Rodrigues said.
Athletes may also be benefitting from the imbalance. Gabe Friedman ’10, a member of the men’s club ultimate frisbee team, said the current plethora of late-morning classes suits his afternoon practice schedule.
“There are enough good classes that I can find classes that I like that also work with my schedule,” Friedman said. “If most of the classes are offered in the afternoon, then how would I go to practice?”
Although there is no formal enforcement mechanism for the 10-percent suggestion, Salovey said the deans have asked the registrar to monitor course schedule proposals and will “be in touch” with departments who exceed their 10-percent allotment.
“I think if everyone is aware of the attempt to spread courses out we can probably accomplish this goal and still maintain a lot of choice and flexibility for each individual faculty member,” Salovey said.
Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said whatever change comes out of the suggestion may be extend beyond classroom availability and freer schedules. Still, in his capacity as an adviser, Gordon said he has seen students with schedules that are too “squeezed together.”
“Having them right in a row, there’s no time for lunch, there’s no time for reflection,” Gordon said. “Give them time for a little reflection or absorption. You lose that train of thought if you have to immediately switch gears.”
But even if they are given more schedule options next year, some students may be unwilling to change old habits.
Natalie Trigo ’10 said that last semester she opted to take an early-morning French literature course on Mondays and Wednesdays over an equivalent late-morning course that met on Fridays.
“I’d do anything not to take classes on Friday,” she said.