Thursday, February 25, 2010

Diktat on 8:00 a.m. Classes: Registrar Responds

We recently blogged about the demand from the Registrar’s office that more 8:00 a.m. classes must be offered at Marquette.

We noted how silly the mandate seems. Neither faculty nor students like 8:00 a.m. classes. Not only are there plenty of classrooms available at 9:00 a.m., individual departments, colleges and programs have every incentive to accommodate students who need to take a class at 8:00 a.m.

We asked Registrar Georgia McRae to explain the rationale for the policy, and she kindly sent us this statement.
Thank you for your inquiries. I understand how you and others might be confused when you see empty classrooms. Please know that I am doing research in response to your questions and will keep the provost and the deans apprised of my findings.

Second, I would like to clarify that the Course Scheduling Policy is a University policy, not a Registrar policy. The Office of the Registrar does not make academic policy, but is often charged with implementation of approved policies that pertain to its responsibilities, such as scheduling classrooms.

The following are key underlying concepts guiding the course scheduling policy and its implementation:
  1. To ensure that our scheduling is student-centric: that is, more courses needed to be spread throughout the day so that students are not faced with time conflicts for needed classes.
  2. We do not have an unlimited number of classrooms at the appropriate size, with the appropriate seating and with the appropriate technology during each time block of the day. This policy attempts to distribute these classrooms in an equitable way across all colleges.
  3. With increased enrollment, we needed to find a way to gain classroom space, without building more classrooms. There are no resources budgeted for new classrooms in the near future.
  4. To give us some flexibility to move a class, without undue hardship on other faculty, when the enrollment outgrows the room capacity, or when we encounter ADA issues. That is, if we have a few classrooms available in each time block, then we have the option to move just the one class that needs to be moved, rather than encounter a domino effect of moving 3-5 classes in order to accomplish our need.
I hope this helps you to understand that there were many considerations that went into the policy and that it was not done in haste, without considerable thought before approval and implementation.
Unfortunately, much of this isn’t really compelling. For example, enrollments. Hard economic times have produced hard times for recruiting a new Freshman class. The Freshman class that Marquette is recruiting for this coming fall appears to be about as large as the one that entered in the fall of 2009, but only at the expense of a greater “discount” of tuition (disguised as larger scholarship grants). There is no reason to think that enrollments will increase. We are, in fact, hoping they don’t decrease.

As for avoiding student conflicts: it’s boneheaded policy to try and force somebody to do something they have every incentive to do anyway. Where a real need for an 8:00 a.m. section exists, deans and department chairs have every incentive to accommodate students. But the reality is that students just don’t like 8:00 a.m. classes, and enrollments are miserable.

As for the claim that “We do not have an unlimited number of classrooms at the appropriate size, with the appropriate seating and with the appropriate technology,” the survey done by our research assistants shows that the empty classrooms were often medium-sized or large.

For example, for Cudahy (for which we have detailed statistics), looking at the classrooms that are available all day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday we find one with a capacity of 41 students, and two with a capacity of 44 each. Looking at the classrooms that are free all day on Tuesday and Thursday, we find one with a capacity of 44, one with a capacity of 41, one with a capacity of 39, and one with a capacity of 24. These are not little seminar rooms.

As for technology: not all classrooms have the latest video technology, but instructors, without any exception that we know of, get assigned to a room with the technology when they want it. And given that virtually every classroom on campus is handicapped accessible, we have trouble seeing how issues created by the need to accommodate disabilities could be causing great problems.

What we have here is yet another example of bureaucrats (and Registrar Georgia McRae may not be the one at fault) implementing something that seems like a good idea to them, all the while remaining oblivious to the actual consequences “on the ground.”

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