Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Misbegotten Scheme From the Registrar: Offer More 8:00 a.m. Classes

In Political Science, we learned about this last Friday, February 12.

Marquette’s Registrar is demanding that more classes be offered at 8:00 a.m. This generated about as much enthusiasm as one would expect. Not only do most faculty not want to teach 8:00 a.m. classes, but most students don’t want to take 8:00 a.m. classes. When political science has offered multiple sections of a given course (say, Introduction to American Politics) the 8:00 a.m. section has always had a poor enrollment.

The question then becomes: why would the Registrar want to do this? It might seem that offering classes evenly spread across the day would be a better use of facilities. But is there a shortage of classrooms at other hours?

We sent two research assistants out to check on the availability of classrooms at the 9:00 a.m. hour for Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes, and for the 9:30-10:45 time slot for Tuesday-Thursday classes.

The research assistants went to the Physics building (1st and 2nd floors), Chemistry (basement and 1st floor), Biology (1st floor), Lalumiere (floors 1-3), Engineering (floors 1 and 2), and Business (floors 2-4).

This wasn’t every building with classrooms, but it probably covers the majority of classrooms on campus.

The results:

Wednesday survey: 46 classrooms occupied and 37 empty

Tuesday survey: 44 classrooms occupied and 25 empty.

These data are subject to a small margin of error. Perhaps our RAs didn’t count some class (or empty classroom) behind a closed door that had no glass panel allowing one to look in. But our RAs quite simply saw many empty classrooms. In principle, classrooms may be in use only one day a week for a discussion section. But are Tuesday or Wednesday less likely to have these than other days?

Why the Registrar thinks we need more 8:00 a.m. classes when we currently have so many vacant 9:00 a.m. classrooms is a mystery.

A separate analysis for Cudahy Hall used the Class Facility Usage sheets from the University database.

It showed:

Tuesday-Thursday: 9:30 classes -- vacant classrooms (7), occupied classrooms (7)

Monday,Wednesday,Friday 9:00 classes -- vacant classrooms (9), occupied classrooms (5)

Of course, the Registrar should know all this. Indeed, it would be a stunning example of incompetence if the Office of the Registrar didn’t know exactly how classrooms are utilized.

There are, of course, instances where an 8:00 a.m. class is dandy. If students in a particular program literally have to take a particular class during a particular semester, putting it at 8:00 a.m. is a fine way to reduce conflicts with other classes, since so few are offered at that hour. And where multiple sections of a class are offered, it may be good to provide an option for students who are “jammed up” with other classes and work schedules in the middle of the day.

But academic departments, schools and programs have plenty of incentive to accommodate student needs and preferences. And indeed, they are likely to be much better informed about student needs and potential scheduling problems than the Registrar’s Office.

So just what is going on here?

[Update - Feb. 23, 2010]

Arts and Sciences Dean Jeanne Hossenlopp replied to our inquiry with the following statement:
There have been a few issues that have come up this year with respect to course scheduling. For some departments, the challenge is offering enough 8 am courses. For others, scheduling discussion sections or graduate courses may be the more pressing concern. We are working with the Registrar to address these issues and the discussion continues. As you know, in Arts and Sciences we have a particular challenge given the number of courses that we offer and we are trying to find an effective way to balance things at the college, rather than solely at the department level. We need to look more carefully at a variety of data including classroom capacities, “smart” classroom requests versus availability, and look for patterns in cancellations. We are still gathering data that will be useful in mapping out how to optimize the constraints in classroom scheduling.
Huh?

We still don’t know what the perceived problem was.

Why did the Registrar think there needed to be more 8:00 a.m. classes?

As for the need to “look more carefully at a variety of data:” shouldn’t the Registrar have looked at the data before she started demanding more 8:00 a.m. classes?

We have a call in to Marquette Registrar Georgia McRae. Perhaps she will tell us what the issue is.

[Developing . . . ]

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