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New schedule to increase time between classes

December 8, 2017

At Monday’s faculty meeting, faculty and staff discussed a plan to alter the schedule of both the academic and extracurricular day by adding 10 minutes between classes. While the detailed schedule has yet to be finalized, this specific change will be implemented for the fall 2018 semester.

The change comes as part of a two-phase plan, created by a working group that formed two years ago to look into issues around scheduling. The first phase also includes shifting the schedule blocks so that the earliest class starts at 8:30 a.m., organizing a shorter, more efficient exam period, adding more  three-hour class periods during the day and 85-minute class periods in the evening. Previously, there were few non-lab three-hour classes offered during the day and no classes offered in an 85-minute block at night. The first phase also addresses the current role of Common Hour on campus.

The 10-minute transition period received almost unanimous support from faculty, both at the meeting and in conversations conducted by the working group. “Putting 10 minutes in between classes has been something we’ve heard from students and faculty almost since I came here over 20 years ago. So it’s long overdue,” said Jim Higginbotham, associate dean for academic affairs. Higginbotham is also a member of both the working group and the Curriculum Implementation Committee (CIC), which played a large role in the initial push for adapting the schedule.

While the change has a lot of support and has been in the works for many years, its impact will be widespread, both culturally and logistically. The plan would extend the academic day to span from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., impacting dining, athletics, the Children’s Center and many other components of campus life. While so far, all these sectors have been willing to accommodate the change, Higginbotham stressed how important feedback from the entire community will be throughout this process.

“This is a campus decision—it’s not just athletics, it’s also extending dining to accommodate that. We have to think about faculty who have families and how they can still meet their obligations here on campus and deal with childcare, so we want to be as inclusive as we can in these decisions,” said Higginbotham.

In addition to the logistical obstacles, the plan will impact campus culture in a number of ways, such as how professors view tardiness.

“Built into [the change] is the expectation now that there’s really no excuse for students to be late for classes,” said Higginbotham. “And so campus culture around people who straggle in will have to change. If we talk about 10 minutes and all the positives that it brings, it’s got to be done concurrently with the message [that campus culture needs to shift].”

In addition to identifying the current transition time as too short, the working group also found that Common Hour is understood and utilized inconsistently across campus. Common Hour is a one-hour period on Fridays dedicated to bringing speakers and performers to campus. While students may be used to seeing posters advertising the various talks and concerts, many are unaware that no classes or committee meetings are scheduled for that hour—from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Fridays—so that the whole college may “absent themselves from daily concerns, gather in common spaces, and engage in the ideas of speakers and the presentations of artists,” as its statement of purpose says.

“If you ask anyone about the history of Common Hour, like 15 years ago when I first arrived, it was a much more thriving thing,” said Karen Topp, senior lecturer in physics and also a member of the working group. “A lot more people went, and it was actually thriving, engaging [and] intellectually stimulating for the whole campus. But it has for a variety of reasons died out in the last 10 years, so it would be nice to see something like that come back.”

As of now, the working group will not schedule Common Hour until the final schedule is finalized.

The plan also adds an evening exam slot to the finals schedule, which will allow spaces and proctors to be designated for make-up exams and accommodations and for the exam period to be shortened by a day.

However, the most controversial aspects of the discussion focused on the changes that would come as part of future phases and the work that would need to be done to address the increasing number of conflicts between course offerings.

Not only has the number of course sections offered each Fall increased by 32 percent over the last 15 years, but also certain timeblocks are used much more frequently than others, causing a high degree of congestion.

For example, this semester 57 sections are scheduled in the timeblock of 9:30 a.m.-11:25 a.m. MWF and 39 in the timeblock of 11:30 a.m.-12:55 p.m. MW. Together, these sections make up more than a fifth of the sections offered.

Addressing the problem of course conflicts and congestion is not a part of phase one. However, some of the small changes, such as increasing the variety of timeblocks at different times of the day might help alleviate the issue.

“Phase one is a first step, and it’s to give the schedule a modicum amount of academic relief and curricular relief, and that’s what we hope to do, and we want to watch that. And then it’ll be a long discussion as we begin to think about the other issues,” said Higginbotham.

However, adding 85-minute blocks to the evening, which would increase the number of courses offered, was a source of controversy amongst faculty. Criticisms from professors acknowledged that this charge would create more conflicts with rehearsals and class meetings for music, theater and dance. Furthermore, these 85-minute blocks in the evening would not support a healthy work-life balance for both faculty and students.

However, an alternative to having more evening courses is utilizing Friday more fully. As Professor of Mathematics Jennifer Taback pointed out during the faculty meeting, 61 classes meet on Friday, while there are over 200 on Monday and Wednesday.

“As a campus culture, we can’t fit everything into the days of four days, so we either expand into the evenings of the four days that people now are using, or we actually really use up the daytime of the five days,” said Topp.

This discussion will continue throughout next semester and the coming year, and modifications to the curriculum will be taken in small increments to allow for reflection and repair if necessary.

“The foray into the evening is going to be modest. It already is modest,” said Higginbotham. “So it’s never going to be that Bowdoin’s curriculum is going to end up in the evening, we just can’t do that. [Some evening courses] are just a part of those little safety valves that allow a little steam to be let out of a compressed system.”

 

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