Dean's schedule initiatives run into faculty resistance

Several faculty members have expressed frustration at Dean Polly Radosh's spoken initiative to re-distribute the course schedule so that students can choose from a greater variety of class times.

Radosh said that last semester, 68 percent of offered lecture classes were 75 minutes long, and most classes were offered between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. She said that ideally, she would like to see half of all lecture courses be 50 minutes and three days a week - typically Monday, Wednesday and Friday - and the other half 75 minutes.

She said that she'd like to "get the whole day used and the whole week," and that doing so would make registration easier for students since there would be less conflicting classes within a given department. The college is also under pressure from the SUNY system to use classroom space more efficiently - some departments have in the past not offered a single class on Fridays.

Although the dean had originally wanted to reach the 50:50 ratio for the upcoming semester, she did not mandate the changes. "It's an ongoing process," Radosh said.

This semester was the first to use the dean's new block schedule, which drastically reduced the number of starting times for classes. Radosh said this new schedule is "unbelievably better … people seem to really like it." She said that once the ratio of 75-minute classes is reduced, Geneseo's schedule will be close to ideal.

Jeffrey Koch, chair of the political science and international relations department, said that he thinks "it's a realistic goal" to make half of the lecture classes offered in 50-minute slots. He added that his department is in compliance with the dean's parameters for the spring semester and he estimated that he had to change only 10 percent of the draft schedule made from faculty requests.

"I could see there are some courses that it's certainly preferable and better to meet twice a week," Koch said. He added, however, that professors in the past have been successful adapting to 50-minute lectures. He said he hopes that in order to shift the schedule the way Radosh has suggested, "the rule needs to be equally applied" to all departments to ensure fairness.

"We're doing everything we can to accommodate the requirements for space utilization," said Rose McEwen, chair of the foreign languages department. McEwen estimated that her department is currently using as much as 95 percent of the classroom time it has been allotted.

She said that some faculty have particular needs because of commuting arrangements and personal preferences that make it difficult to spread the schedule out, but acknowledged the pressure the dean is under to better utilize available space.

"A lot of discussion classes need the [longer] space to develop a theme and explore a topic," said Rosemarie Chierichi, chair of the anthropology department. "It would be nice to be able to explore different ways of teaching," such as service learning, that are difficult to fit into the traditional three-days-a-week slot. She said that maintaining open lines of communication between students, faculty, departments, and administration would alleviate some of the tension between the groups.

Christian Shin, chair of the computer science department, said that trying to create a department schedule when the guidelines are constantly in flux "becomes a hard problem for us to deal with." He noted that one problem with spreading the schedule out is that attendance tends to be poor at classes that begin at 8 a.m. "We are guilty [as a department] in that we don't have all the classes scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.," Shin said.

Edward Wallace, chair of the mathematics department, said, "I understand the rationale that [Radosh] is using on this." He echoed the notion that holding classes at 8 a.m. creates attendance problems and cited his experience teaching the same course at two different times where student performance was dramatically worse at 8 a.m. than when the course was taught later in the day.

Wallace also said that some faculty members have felt animosity toward Radosh since she implemented the new block schedule without consulting the College Senate or seeking faculty review.

"Faculty really value their autonomy," said William Lofquist, chair of the sociology department. He added that there was some resistance from faculty when it was initially suggested that classes scheduled on Monday/Wednesday, Wednesday/Friday and Monday/Friday could be eliminated. "Having to change that for reasons that aren't entirely clear is something that people aren't extremely comfortable with," he said.

Lofquist also said that, considering that the college may eventually move to four-credit classes which could require yet another overhaul of the schedule, some faculty are growing weary of the constantly changing timetable.

"I saw nothing drastically wrong with the old schedule," said Barbara Howard, assistant dean of the School of Business. Howard said that absent a dramatic switch to a six-day schedule where classes are held on Saturdays, she does not see room for major improvement. She said that in the past there was an understanding among School of Business faculty that one should rotate between teaching TR and MWF classes, but that when the new block schedule offered an opportunity to teach MW classes, she was not surprised to see a large number of faculty utilize that option.

Howard said she would like to see a survey sent to students to determine which classes work well in the 75-minute format as well as when students would most prefer to take courses.

Stephen Almekinder, director of academic scheduling, said the dean is "trying to give the students a better schedule" by spreading course offerings out in a way that will translate to more options and fewer conflicts.

The spring semester schedule has been finalized and is now available on KnightWeb. Registration for the Spring 2010 semester begins Nov. 2.