Monday, May 03, 2010

University Officials Produce Bogus Data to Support Diktat on 8:00 a.m. Classes

The recent demand from the Registrar that more classes be offered at 8:00 a.m. was received by faculty with a decided lack of enthusiasm. It was obvious to all of us that there is no shortage of classrooms during the more desirable hours. To know this, one only needs to do what faculty regularly do (but university bureaucrats don’t) and walk down the halls of any academic building.

To be a little more systematic, we analyzed the availability of classrooms in seven buildings (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Lalumiere, Engineering, Business and Math/Computer Science) during the 9:00 a.m hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the 9:30 a.m. time slot on Tuesday and Thursday.

This is for the current (Spring) semester.

(Why not more buildings and more class times? We didn’t want to squander scarce research assistant time proving the obvious.)

We found 44 free classrooms at MWF 9:00 a.m., and 34 free classrooms at TTh 9:30.

Our post got a fair amount of attention among university officials, and the Registrar produced an elaborate PowerPoint presentation rebutting out post, which was shown to deans and department chairs.

The presentation was not shown to us, rather we learned out it third hand. We accosted Provost John Pauly about it, and he kindly sent us an e-mail explaining the response he and the Registrar made. We’ll quote it entire.
Below is an excerpt of the memo my office sent to the deans. Feel free to use as you like.

We examined the usage data for 41 classrooms. Professor McAdams had specified 25 classrooms where he thought there might be a problem; for our assessment we also added an additional 16 in Cudahy, to make sure we understood the full scale of the issue.

Here is the breakdown of what we found:
  • Nine of the 41 classrooms are restricted or are laboratories, and thus not part of the common pool available for scheduling by the registrar.
  • Twelve of the 41 are in fact being used, having a course scheduled or a discussion/quiz section at least one day per week.
  • Of the remaining 20 classrooms, eleven (four of the 11 on MWF and 11 of the 11 on TTH at the times cited), are unused due to their characteristics. Three have capacity under 20 (most classrooms of that sort are typically used for graduate courses later in the day); five are large (70+) but have fixed layout and furniture that most faculty now find unacceptable, except for large lectures. One is large (60+) but even with its movable desks is not a classroom preferred by most faculty for average size classes. One room is not smart and one is very limited smart, and neither has proved very acceptable to most faculty.
Of the 41 classrooms cited, we found nine not being fully used in the timeslots mentioned. But only five of these are available in those timeslots on TTH, and seven on MWF. Given the size of the classroom pool, there is not enough capacity there to allow a significant variation from the scheduling grid.

As everyone knows, classroom scheduling is not an exact science, and each choice we make involves a trade-off between competing priorities. Our overarching goals are to meet faculty’s pedagogical needs, maximize use of available classrooms, and offer courses evenly enough throughout the day so that students can more effectively schedule required courses. To the extent possible, we have also tried to allow a small number of classrooms to remain “restricted” to accommodate use by the colleges or departments.

The classroom scheduling system uses the following purposeful priorities to guide classroom assignments:
  • Allow faculty to express preferences with regard to the type of classroom they need, given their chosen teaching pedagogy. This involves not only smart classroom requests, but needs for certain room formats, such as movable desks/tables and chairs, etc.
  • Give college faculty some priority in the assignment of classrooms in their building (e.g., business courses get scheduled first in all of the classrooms in their building, then other courses are filled-in for the remaining times).
  • Allow for any faculty who teach back-to-back courses to be scheduled in the same building.
  • Ensure some classrooms are reserved each term for changes that need to be made with regard to ADA compliance and last-minute changes to class size.
  • Accommodate course formats that, by their nature, result in a vacant classroom one or more days a week, including:

    • Discussion or quiz sections that are not coordinated with those of other departments may use a room only one day a week, resulting in an empty room the other day(s) of the week.
    • Four-credit language courses that meet four days a week, leaving a room vacant the fifth day.
    • Large lecture courses that have been modified so that they meet two days per week rather than three (with an associated lab), leaving the classroom vacant the third day of the week.
This is a slightly more elaborated version of the information Georgia McRae provided you. Hope this helps you understand the parameters that affect how the registrar schedules classrooms. The registrar and provost’s office are continuing to work with deans to make the classroom scheduling grid manageable for faculty.

Best wishes!

John Pauly, Provost
We frankly did not believe these assertions, and asked Provost Pauly and Registrar McRae for the raw data that underlay the claims above, but our request was ignored.

A New Analysis

Faced with the issues raised by the McRae/Pauly analysis, we did our own new analysis. This time, we use the classroom scheduling data in Checkmarq to confirm that classrooms we classify as “available” were in fact available for all three (MWF) or two (TTh) days of the week. We also added the 1:00 p.m. MWF hour, and the 12:30 TTh timeslot.

We still limit our analysis to the seven buildings listed above.

Our data are found in a spreadsheet here.

We identified available classrooms as follows:
  • MWF 9:00 a.m. – 39
  • MWF 1:00 p.m. - 48
  • TTh 9:30 a.m. - 19
  • TTh 12:30 p.m. - 21
With only two partial exceptions, the classrooms we listed as “available” are scheduled by the Registrar, and not by any department. Only one is a “lab,” and it is configured so it could easily be used as a classroom if not in use as a lab (Cudahy 145). Further, all except three have video equipment. A large number have movable seats.

And note that this is for this Spring semester. The diktat on 8:00 a.m. classes will create even more empty classrooms at 9:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and presumably other times too.

Now let’s review the statements we got from Provost Pauly.
We examined the usage data for 41 classrooms. Professor McAdams had specified 25 classrooms where he thought there might be a problem; for our assessment we also added an additional 16 in Cudahy, to make sure we understood the full scale of the issue.
Actually, we identified a total of 78 classrooms that appeared to be available at the 9:00 a.m. or 9:30 a.m hours. Apparently the number 41 came from partial data we supplied to the Dean of Arts and Sciences under time pressure before all the data were available.
Of the 41 classrooms cited, we found nine not being fully used in the timeslots mentioned. But only five of these are available in those timeslots on TTH, and seven on MWF. Given the size of the classroom pool, there is not enough capacity there to allow a significant variation from the scheduling grid.
This is a rather bizarre assertion. Since Pauly has failed to identify the 32 classrooms that he thinks are being “fully utilized” it’s difficult to know what he means by this, but there are vastly more than nine classrooms available in the timeslots we analyzed.
Nine of the 41 classrooms are restricted or are laboratories, and thus not part of the common pool available for scheduling by the registrar.
Again, the failure to identify which classrooms these are makes it hard to know what he’s talking about, but none of the classrooms in our new analysis is a lab (again, with one partial exception). All (with two minor exceptions) are assigned by the Registrar.

But note the irrelevance of the “scheduled by the Registrar” claim. If a particular classroom is scheduled by a particular department, that department should have the option of using it for a class that might otherwise meet at 8:00 a.m. An empty classroom is an empty classroom. Also, there will be no increase in classrooms controlled by departments this fall. So why won’t what has worked this spring work in the fall too?
Allow faculty to express preferences with regard to the type of classroom they need, given their chosen teaching pedagogy. This involves not only smart classroom requests, but needs for certain room formats, such as movable desks/tables and chairs, etc.
Likewise:
Give college faculty some priority in the assignment of classrooms in their building (e.g., business courses get scheduled first in all of the classrooms in their building, then other courses are filled-in for the remaining times).
It’s interesting that the Registrar is willing to accommodate faculty desires for movable chairs, or to teach in their own building but not desires to avoid 8:00 a.m. classes.

Perhaps faculty who want movable chairs or especially want to teach in their own buildings should be given the option of having what they want during an 8:00 a.m class, or a bit less than they want some other time. But in fact, there is no shortage of rooms in any of the buildings in our survey, and no shortage of rooms with movable chairs.
Twelve of the 41 are in fact being used, having a course scheduled or a discussion/quiz section at least one day per week.
In the first place, this is untrue – or at least irrelevant since our new analysis shows numerous classrooms available all week.

But note the bizarre logic here. A discussion or quiz section is allowed to be scheduled one day a week, pushing a class that meets three (or two) times a week to 8:00 a.m.! Why not put the discussion/quiz section at 8:00 a.m.? In reality, of course, there are plenty of classrooms available at later hours.

Finally, we have this:
Our overarching goals are to meet faculty’s pedagogical needs, maximize use of available classrooms, and offer courses evenly enough throughout the day so that students can more effectively schedule required courses.
The implication here is that the Registrar needs to protect the students from academic departments, which will (left to their own devices) oppress students by preventing them from taking classes at 8:00 a.m.

But departments have every incentive to accommodate student needs. Students don’t like 8:00 a.m. classes, as enrollments in these classes show. Departments have an incentive to increase their enrollments by offering classes when students want to take them, and by spreading classes throughout the day so that (for example) majors have no difficulty taking the classes they need to complete the major.

Bogus Data

What we have here is bogus data to support a policy that university officials somehow want, but which students and faculty don’t want.

Why would they do this?

Why are they so attached to a policy that faculty dislike, students dislike, and the data don’t support?

What we appear to have here, as with so much that happens at Marquette, is another of the sort of bureaucratic pathologies that we political scientists tell our classes about. The most revealing sentence in Pauly’s e-mail is the following:
Given the size of the classroom pool, there is not enough capacity there to allow a significant variation from the scheduling grid.
Note the reference to “the scheduling grid.” The Registrar’s software is based on a “grid,” and she and Pauly are attached to “the grid” regardless of what faculty and students think the schedule should look like.

This is known as “goal displacement:” Bureaucrats lose sight of their real goal, and become attached to the procedure they are using to (supposedly) promote the goal. When the procedure comes to conflict with the goal, the bureaucrats cling to the procedure and lose sight of the goal.

This is particularly disappointing in the case of Pauly, who has gotten high marks from the faculty. We have toyed with the idea that he has “gone native” in an administration which is dominated by the “business side” of the university to the detriment of the “academic side.”

In fact, we think this is mostly the result of inattention on his part. A Provost, who certainly has a lot of other things to worry about, has depended on the work of his staff which in turn has been based on information gotten from the Registrar. On this particular issue, he needs to be more assertive.

Most Recent Developments

We sent a copy of an earlier version of this data to both Registrar McRae and Provost Pauly this past Thursday, asking them to identify any mistakes they think should be corrected. We reached Provost Pauly this morning, and he forwarded our data to Registrar Georgia McRae, who promised to get around to reviewing it next week.

We will continue to report on this issue.

Developing . . . .

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