Letter to the Editor: Time for change

To the Editor:

In the Oct. 22 edition, the Record noted that the “faculty debated the merits of adding more evening timeslots for courses” at its Oct. 15 meeting (“Faculty considers more night classes”). True that. It also debated the detriments.

This was an open discussion about a perpetual problem—the congestion in the class schedule—and not a new or sudden consideration. Adding evening classes to relieve this congestion was presented as a “small kernel of an idea” and not a fully formed proposal.

In any given semester, Williams offers over 350 class sections spread across 40 or so classrooms between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Over the past decade we have expanded the faculty and increased the number of majors, programs, concentrations and courses we offer. Each year we bring in a range of visiting scholars and postdoctoral fellows who often offer once-in-a-lifetime courses. And we pile all that into the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. class schedule.

Many fixes have been suggested, like simply moving current classes into open spots. But there are no openings. And despite perceptions, 8:30 a.m. ranks among the most utilized class times on the schedule, with 40 classes meeting across each day. In fact, last year’s Calendar and Schedule Committee identified the 8:30 a.m. slot as needing to be unpacked.

Other recommendations include holding Saturday classes, adding evening classes or letting the day’s class schedule continue past 4 p.m.

To the evening idea, the Record voiced opposition. So, if early mornings are out, evenings are out and I’m pretty sure Saturdays are out, then we are left with the third rail of Williams’s cultural politics: 4 p.m. and Division of the Day. 

Cue the hysteria. Division of the Day is one of the most sensitive topics discussed at the College. Division of the Day is a significant and positive aspect of the liberal arts education for many students. But Division of the Day is not necessarily a benefit to the liberal arts education of many others.

The contention runs so deep that the very idea of evening classes represents an inevitable slide down the slippery slope, carried by enough momentum that we actually might have a serious and constructive discussion about how institutionally Williams distributes the resource known as time.

Can a one-size-fits-all framework contain a dynamic curriculum and a diverse community? As the chair of the Calendar and Schedule Committee, I hope that students, faculty and staff engage that question. Let us be animated and creative about it.

Meanwhile, the immediate question remains: “Is adding a few evening classes a viable enough solution—at least for now—to the congested class schedule that we may talk in earnest about how to make it work?”

The Calendar and Schedule Committee is soliciting comments, ideas and questions. Please use my email: lb1@williams.edu.

Leslie Brown

Associate Professor of History

Chair, Calendar and Schedule Committee