Division of the day raises campus issues

Classes, sports, committees, lectures, rehearsals, performances and meetings. The Division of the Day policy delegates specific hours to these activities in hopes of minimizing schedule conflicts and allowing students and faculty to participate in a variety of activities. Questions have arisen recently about enforcement of the policy, the burden that it puts on students to resolve schedule conflicts and assumptions about the policy’s presence on campus.

These questions arose in large part because the game schedules of several sports teams require students to miss more class than the permissible “one week’s worth of classes per semester in any regularly scheduled course.” Conflicts have also arisen from academic responsibilities, such as labs, that run past 4 p.m. Some students and faculty believe violations of both types have been increasing in recent years, presenting an increasingly difficult situation for students, faculty and coaches.

The Division of the Day policy (on page 138 of the Student Handbook) states, “In order to protect the wealth and diversity of activities at Williams – first academics, but also athletics, cultural events, volunteer work and others – the College through the Calendar and Schedule Committee has reserved the primary hours of 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7-9:30 p.m. Tuesday evening for academic courses.”

Sports, “optional, supplemental course activities” and other activities must be scheduled outside these hours. The policy provides exceptions for evening exams in multi-sectioned courses, class field trips and away games that do not affect more than a week’s work of class meetings. The Calendar and Schedule Committee must approve all other exceptions.

The goal of the Division of the Day “is to not put athletics and academics in competition with each other,” said Robert Peck, Director of Athletics and a member of the Calendar and Schedule Committee.

When the policy is violated, however, schedule conflicts arise. The Calendar and Schedule Committee is involved in these conflicts when a complaint is brought to them. If it finds no violation, “those involved have to work it out between them,” Heather Williams, Chair of the Committee said. If it does find a violation, the Committee requests that it not happen again. Although no action was taken this season to eliminate scheduled games that violate the Division of the Day, “In the future [the Calendar and Schedule Committee] possibly will require approval of athletic schedules,” Williams said. This action would need a committee vote.

While the policy names academics as the first priority, members of the community disagree about the message the policy’s enforcement sends. Some say enforcement implicitly prioritizes sports.

The policy “is not being enforced symmetrically,” Assistant Professor of Political Science Cheryl Shanks said. “The Calendar and Schedule Committee comes down hard on faculty for office hours, exams, field trips, but when faculty complain about athletics, it’s written off as a mistake.”

Others within the community think enforcement of the Division of the Day is fair. “The others [out-of-class academic and non-sport extra curricular events] are exceptions that are on a one-event basis, and athletics are on more of an understanding,” Peck said. “We try to not have any team miss more than a week’s worth of classes. If they do, we leave it to students and professors. If they can’t work it out, the student doesn’t play.”

“It has been made clear that even under that rule [of a maximum number of sports-related class absences], the academics always take precedence over any extracurricular,” said Charles Toomajian, Jr., Associate Dean for Student Services and Registrar and a member of the Calendar and Schedule Committee.

Violations of the policy continue to arise, however, and since they are often not eliminated, students feel caught in the middle. Mid-week away games and tournaments beginning on Friday have posed the most noticeable conflicts, but long labs, practice and evening exams also compete for students’ time.

Students must choose between missing class and fulfilling their responsibility to their team or association. Because professors respond differently to absence from class, “You never know when you’ll be penalized. I think there’s a lot of tension,” said Becky Kummer ’00, biology major and soccer player. Schedule conflicts are organization or team-specific, since traditional schedules vary.

As possible solutions to the current problems, Kummer emphasized communication and consistency. “I don’t think you’ll ever schedule so that there are no conflicts, but maybe by communicating more clearly there can be an understanding that can be applied across the board.”

Suggestions for improving the division of the day lead to examination of the policy’s origin. Although faculty and staff have researched the origins of the division of the day policy, no one knows when the policy was instituted or who instituted it. Peck said the policy was here when he began working at Williams 29 years ago. Toomajian has researched the policy’s history and said, “The first reference I could find was in a memorandum from the Dean of the College [14 or 15 years ago].” Records show no faculty or student vote on the policy at any time.

While the origins cannot be traced, many students and faculty think the division of the day is necessary to minimize conflicts of different activities. “It makes sports possible in an atmosphere that stresses academics. It also prevents class scheduling conflicts,” said Kummer.

“Reserving three hours each afternoon for athletics and extracurriculars allows us the opportunity to keep a healthy balance in our lives,” said Phil Swisher ’01. With so many groups competing for time, academics, athletics and other extracurriculars, “everybody is unhappy about it,” said Williams. However, the policy must limit each groups demand for time in order to accommodate all of them.

Some members of the community would like to try alternative methods of scheduling. “I’d most like to see the division of the day ended, so things do not only happen in these little defined periods. I think it prevents people from throwing themselves into one thing. Balance isn’t the only way to be healthy. I like the idea that people can do anything anytime,” Shanks said.

“I personally think we should experiment for two years and do away with [the Division of the Day], and see what happens. If the College falls apart, as many think it would, we could get it back together,” Toomajian said.

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