Faculty considers more night classes

Professors debated the merits of adding more evening timeslots for courses at the faculty meeting on Oct. 15.

Leslie Brown, chair of the Calendar and Schedule Committee, which works with the registrar to schedule classes and assign rooms, introduced the possibility of adding 75-minute evening courses on Mondays and Wednesdays, although the days and times are still subject to change. The addition of this timeslot would alleviate the demand for classrooms during popular 11 a.m. and 1:10 p.m. timeslots. Offering courses at more times would also reduce the number of courses offered at the same time, potentially reducing the need for students to pick between overlapping courses.

Most of the opposition to offering evening classes came from professors in the music, dance and theater departments, who hold rehearsals and performances in the evenings. They claimed that it would be difficult for students taking classes in the proposed timeslot to participate in performances. Several other departments and student groups also rely on meetings and events in the evening.

“The sudden, recent move and initiative to expand night classes at Williams and eventually to eliminate the division of the day altogether, suggests a very narrow view of what constitutes the liberal arts college experience,” Anthony Sheppard, chair of the department of music, said. “Embracing a liberal arts college education requires taking a wide variety of courses in a range of subjects. It also involves attending the astonishing array of lectures, performances, film screenings, athletic events, political organizational meetings and social gatherings that take place nightly on this campus throughout the year.”

“This initiative would adversely impact every unit and every student and faculty member in ways we might not be aware of. Adding night classes poses an existential threat to the department of music. In short, it would be a nightmare… I don’t think problems with bricks and mortar should undermine our ideals of the liberal arts college education,” Sheppard said.

Several professors in the music, theater and dance departments voiced support for Sheppard’s comments, noting that at a small college every student in a performance is valuable and cannot be replaced if one of their courses conflicts with rehearsal schedules. Professors in the theater department were concerned that a student enrolled in a course that meets twice a week at night would not be able to participate in either of the two major productions the department puts on each semester.

Some professors supported the addition of more night classes as a means of providing students greater flexibility in creating their schedules.

“I don’t want to discourage or undermine or destroy liberal arts, and I think it would be possible to teach in the evening without doing that frankly… I wonder if the committee had considered making that slot available for only four courses or say making them only for very small classes. Because I think there really is a problem with crowding,” Gretchen Long, professor of history, said. “And I respectfully disagree that students have been getting up [early for morning classes] all through high school and have been doing fine. A lot of research shows that they’re getting up and not doing fine. They’re much better during the night. I’m not, but they are and I was amazed when I taught on Monday night by how much more lively they are than say Wednesday afternoon. I think there are ways to massage this… I can’t believe it would undermine the wonderful performing arts that we have here.”

According to Brown, the idea was for only six small classes to be offered at night with a total enrollment of less than 100 students.

Other concerns included the suspicion that the new timeslots would be unpopular among both students and professors. Brown said the Calendar and Scheduling Committee would continue to collect feedback from students and faculty to determine whether or not they would utilize the timeslot. Colin Adams, professor of mathematics, cautioned that multi-section classes can only hold exams on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday nights and since most professors typically schedule midterms around the same time, eliminating one third of those timeslots by offering courses on Wednesday nights would make it difficult to schedule evening exams.

The faculty also discussed the possibility of making broader changes to the division of the day, which is intended to allow students to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities by not offering courses in the late afternoon and evening. Other potential changes to division of the day include having courses at 4 p.m., but the Calendar and Scheduling Committee is only considering the addition of evening courses at this time.