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Faculty Senate discusses revised proposal to revamp Stanford's class schedules

"If we focus in on what we're trying to accomplish, we can muddle our way through. But everyone has to give in a little bit," said Tom Black, university registrar.

At Thursday's Faculty Senate meeting, University Registrar Tom Black presented a new proposal for revamping Stanford's class scheduling.

The proposal, which has been revised since it was first presented last year, was designed to reduce the potential for overlapping or conflicting class times, help students get the classes they want and open up the entire day to teaching and learning.

L.A. CiceroTom Black speaking to Faculty Senate

University Registrar Tom Black speaking to the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

Black said that under the new proposal, the teaching day would be broken into 50- and 80-minute blocks, with 10 minutes left between classes for travel time. To reduce conflicts, all classes would start at a standard time. Classes could end early, but they could not start early or late. The noon hour would not be free.

Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education, endorsed the proposal.

Under the proposal, most classes would start on the half hour, except as necessary for the 80-minute classes that meet Tuesday/Thursday or Monday/Wednesday/Friday afternoons. The first classes of the day would begin at 8:30 a.m., Monday through Friday. The last classes would begin at 7:30 p.m.

Currently, there are 13 separate starting times from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Classes meet for 50, 75, 90, 110 or 170 minutes. Black said the schedule results in multiple overlapping combinations of day patterns and class lengths, and an inefficient use of classrooms.

Black said he had gotten a lot of feedback since introducing the original proposal last year. To illustrate what would happen if he accepted all the suggestions, he stood in front of a PowerPoint slide of Stanford's current meeting schedule.

"We know students don't want to start their classes in the morning at 8, so we would eliminate that period," he said, using the clicker to eliminate that band of classes. "Also, some graduate students indicated that they have families, and they wish to be home nights with their families," he said, wiping out another section. "Faculty want to have their departmental meetings at noon," he said, erasing the noon hour. "Athletes can't take afternoon classes," he said, and with a click, those classes disappeared from the screen. "And nobody wants to teach Friday," he said, as the room erupted in laughter. "So if we incorporated everyone's suggestion we would have something like this," standing in front of a nearly empty screen. "So obviously that's not practicable."

There is no perfect system, Black said, adding there will be conflicts and exceptions in any system the university adopts.

"If we focus in on what we're trying to accomplish, we can muddle our way through," he said. "But everyone has to give in a little bit. Students – some of them, some time – may have to take an early class. Faculty, we encourage you to distribute your courses. We have to all be cognizant we don't have unlimited resources, especially classroom resources. Administrators, including those in my office, have to work together to make this work. It's all about balance."

Two Academic Council committees – the Committee on Graduate Studies and the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy – are considering the proposal and will present a recommendation to the senate at a later date.

Faculty expressed opinions for and against the proposal.

One faculty member supported a 9 a.m. start time, saying that it also would benefit families with children. Another faculty member, saying students who take an 8 a.m. lyric poetry class – taught in Spanish – are happy to be in that class at that time, added that it was important to recognize the diversity among faculty who like to teach early in the morning and students who like to learn early in the morning. Another faculty member urged Black to restore the noon hour as a time for departmental meetings.

Ilya Mouzykantskii, chair of the student life committee of the ASSU Undergraduate Senate, said students hoped to amend the proposal by shifting the entire schedule by one-half hour, with classes starting at 9 a.m. When he said the ASSU was happy that the prohibition against double-booking classes had been eliminated from the revised proposal, Faculty Senate Chair David Palumbo-Liu corrected him, saying the issue of double-booking classes had been deferred, but was not off the table.

Dan Ashton, one of Stanford's student body presidents, said the 8:30 a.m. start time would hurt student athletes, who would have to get up even earlier for workouts. He also cited the research of Dr. William Dement of the School of Medicine about the detrimental effects of lack of sleep on mental health.

The full minutes of the Oct. 10 meeting will be available on the Faculty Senate website next week. The minutes will include the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations. The next senate meeting will be held Oct. 24.