CSC proposes addition of Wednesday night classes

The Calendar and Scheduling Committee (CSC) proposed an experiment that would alter the Division of the Day (DOD) policy for the next two academic years: The Committee would consider requests to exceptions to the DOD in the form of a new slot for classes during Wednesday evenings from 7 p.m. to 9:40 p.m.

The committee will only consider elective courses and required courses that are also offered during a conventional academic slot for this exception. The faculty will vote on the experiment at the faculty meeting today.

The proposal for extending the academic day comes in the midst of a significant enlargement of class enrollments (4 percent since 2005), classes offered (36 percent since 1996) and number of class sections (16 percent since 1995). Most substantial is the increase in 150-minute class sections, currently scheduled during the Monday evening 7 p.m. to 9:40 p.m. and Wednesday afternoon 1:10 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. slots, which have expanded nearly 50 percent since 1995. These increases have pressed faculty to explore alternatives in an effort to make a wider range of classes available to students, with the current proposal a product of that effort.

The College’s DOD policy dates back to 1937. According to the College’s current student handbook, the policy states, “In order to protect the wealth and diversity of activities at Williams – first academics, but also athletics, performances, cultural events, volunteer work and others – the College has reserved the hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 to 9:40 p.m. Monday evening for academic courses.” This leaves the remainder of the day open for students to engage in extracurricular activities without having to worry about scheduling conflicts.

Many professors have expressed discontent over the seemingly asymmetrical enforcement of the DOD by its overseeing body, the CSC. Since 1999, a number of professors have complained that athletics have skirted the rule while the CSC has vehemently denied their requests for extended academic time. While talk of altering DOD has existed since 1999, there have been no viable alternatives  offered until last month’s faculty meeting.

The current CSC is headed by Professor of History Leslie Brown and composed of faculty and staff only. While the CSC also allots slots to include three student members, during the time when the experiment was drafted and finalized, no students sat on the committee.

After the CSC’s presentation on the proposal at the faculty meeting, many professors provided their thoughts on the change during the discussion section. Professor of Economics Jon Bakija acknowledged that the proposal addressed a “real problem” at the College, but questioned what the incentive for departments and programs to engage with the experiment was.

Professor of Economics Ralph Bradburd expressed his disgruntlement with DOD, labeling it “a longstanding problem at the College,” going insofar as to propose another additional class slot from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. during the week. When another faculty member pointed out that offering classes at this time would force student-athletes to choose between their activity and taking a class offered at this time, Bradburd explained that he “didn’t care if it infringed on athletics – it’s just a short experiment.” Brown responded to Bradburd’s comment by explaining that “the 4 p.m. slot is used by a lot of things – not just athletics, but also tutorial meetings, department meetings, faculty meetings, committee and subcommittee meetings, and more,” noting that she thinks it’s better to “try one thing at a time instead of opening a bunch of new time slots, then evaluate and proceed accordingly.”

Professor of Theater David Gurcay-Morris also expressed his approval for the proposed change, but said he wouldn’t be fully convinced of its merit until presented with “hard data.” “Students should be forced to make choices between one class or another, or one class and an extra-curricular activity,” Gurcay-Morris explained. “They’ll have to make choices between one thing or another in life – why not make them do it now, too?”

The most vocal dissenter of the proposed change was the music department. Representing the concerns of the department were Professor of Music Jennifer Bloxam and Professor of Music Ed Gollin. Bloxam said that “the experiment will produce a profound negative impact on the experience of students in the music department.” At present, virtually all of the music department’s programming, which serves over 450 students, with 200 students taking half-credit music lessons and over 300 students participating in ensembles, occurs after 4 p.m.

Bloxam explained that the music department has three main objections to the proposed alteration: the process that has brought the proposal to this point, in that the CSC did not adequately consult faculty while planning the proposal and that their decisions and deliberations were not transparent; the experiment’s lack of clear parameters, in that “the proposal contains ambiguous language” when explaining who has the ability to approve changes, and that while the experiment is presented as a small step, its potential effect on the music department is deep; their largest concern, however, is about the “human subjects of this experiment,” elaborating that the College has 2099 students whose opinions on the change have not been sought.

Professor of Computer Science Duane Bailey also voiced concern for the pending change. Bailey surfaced apprehensions surrounding the logistical aspects of a schedule change, including extending the College’s supporting services (daycare for professors’ children, hours for the Office of Information and Technology, etc.). Also raised was concern of a possible erosion of the community-oriented environment the College has traditionally fostered. “While the change could potentially present an inconvenience to students, it will almost certainly present an inconvenience to professors,” Bailey stated. “Williams is a family and community-oriented place, and many professors want 9 5 p.m. to be their working hours. We want to go home and see our families and kids and do other things.”

Professor of Political Science Mark Reinhardt conceded that “there is no win-win solution to this issue – there are trade-offs no matter what we decide to do. There are winners and losers now, and there will be winners and losers in whatever we decide to proceed with.” He believes that the change will accomplish the objective of making it easier for students to complete double majors, as many major-required courses fall during the 150-minute time slots, forcing students to pick one major-required course or the other. “The opportunity to complete a major is more important than choosing an extra-curricular activity, especially if it’s a class you want to take, not a class you need to take.” Reinhardt acknowledged that the art, music and performing art departments would take the largest hit. “This is not a cost-free proposal, but it’s worth conducting the experiment to see what the costs are.”

This is not the first time the DOD has been scrutinized; legitimate pushes to challenge the policy occurred in 1999, 2001 and 2003, with consistent dissatisfaction occurring since then. In fact, the current proposed change is not novel either. In 1999, the then Associate Dean for Student Services and Registrar Charles Toomajian, Jr. suggested, “We should experiment for two years and do away with [the DOD], and see what happens. If the College falls apart, as many think it would, we could get it back together.”

Implementation of the proposed plan for the 2016-17 academic year rests on the result of a faculty-wide vote during this week’s faculty meeting.

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