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Registrar proposes 8:30 a.m. starts, banning double-booked schedules

Starting in fall quarter of next year, students could face 8:30 a.m. class times for popular courses and be precluded from scheduling overlapping classes as part of the plan to ease scheduling congestion put forward by University Registrar Tom Black.

Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service

Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service

“Classes are available at that time [8:30 a.m.], and they’re not used,” Black said. “That’s an asset. If you had an asset and you wasted it every day, arguably you would say, ‘Why?’ We build out these big beautiful physical plans, and we just throw away the money we spent for that asset. That doesn’t make any sense.”

According to Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam, both the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policies (C-USP) as well as the Committee on Graduate Studies have approved Black’s proposal. The final step before the plan’s implementation is approval by the Faculty Senate, which will discuss the issue on March 7.

Black portrayed the changes as beneficial to both students and faculty, arguing that earlier class times would benefit athletes and others with substantial time commitments later in the day. He also said that faculty with children had welcomed the earlier schedule because it would allow them to get home earlier.

“[Athletes and] other groups have their afternoons filled with all kinds of activity,” Black argued. “If the courses are only available for a very narrow window and they’re on top of each other, you’re not helping anyone.”

Despite the proposal’s potentially large impact on students, few students have been afforded input to date, according to Black. Instead, he consulted an advisory committee of 12 students, appointed by the Nominations Committee (NomCom), and has yet to put forward his plan to a larger body of undergraduate or graduate students.

“We asked them if there was anything here that would be a showstopper,” Black said. “We know there’s a cultural practice, but as in all cultures, they can adapt.”

Besides that small focus group, neither Black nor Elam offered any plans to solicit student input.

“Enrollment opens August 1,” Black said. “When they [students] look at when the courses are offered, they’ll see that it’s been changed.”

Black implemented a similar scheduling change at the University of Chicago, where he worked as the registrar until 2007. Black said there was a very practical reason for pushing class times earlier at Chicago – the University lacked classroom space, an issue that is less pronounced at Stanford.

“This [proposal] has more of a principle that’s part of it – the value of teaching, the proper use of resources, as well as taking care of the students,” Black said.

Reviewing his proposal to eliminate the ability for students to independently double-book classes, Black framed the move as a means of increasing student focus and contributions to the class.

“If you have people who are coming in late or leaving early, what does it say about the value of teaching?” Black asked. “It brings it down because you’re saying, ‘It doesn’t matter if I’m there. I can skip that 15 minutes. It does not matter.’ That, to me, is unprincipled.”

“On average, 1,000 students or more each quarter had courses that overlapped,” Elam said. “That’s something that we wanted to do away with. We wanted to get rid of the possibility of students doing two classes at the same time.”

Elam and Black framed the proposed changes as a means of bringing Stanford’s scheduling system in line with peer institutions. According to Elam, Stanford’s current system is the “most confusing” among all the schools he surveyed.

Black noted that Stanford’s current class schedule system allows most classes to run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with many overlaps – a situation that his proposal would aim to alleviate through a more streamlined structure. By contrast, Black said peer institutions have “very few structural conflicts in the schedules [and are] very simple.”

According to Elam, University administrators will work with individual departments to schedule some of the University’s most popular classes at the new 8:30 a.m. start time. The Program in Human Biology (HumBio) has already agreed to move its core classes to an 8:30 a.m. start time, and Elam expressed hope that many language classes will also follow suit.

“We hope that people will use the early morning time at 8:30 and that some really popular classes will be held then,” Elam said. “Right now, the culture is that everybody wants to teach basically between 11 and 2, and we just can’t have all our classes then.”

Student discontent

Even as efforts to support Black’s proposal move ahead, students expressed concern about the impact of changes in scheduling on their academic experience.

“With classes like human biology, chemistry and other science classes, you really have to pay attention to understand the concept,” said Rashi Ojha ’15, a HumBio major. “It really is hard to pay attention that early in the morning.”

“You [have] got activities at night, you got homework,” Allen Xu ’15 said. “It’s hard to get a start. If the administration can’t change any of those other things, it can’t really expect changing class times to be a good idea.”

Some students applauded the potential changes. Cyerra Holmes ’16, a varsity lacrosse player, said that she has had difficulty finding classes that do not conflict with practice.

“I haven’t been able to take a single [Introductory Seminar] because most of them meet in the afternoon only, so it’s really hard for me to find that even though I really want to do that,” Holmes said.

“I’d be more alert, and I’d have the rest of the day to be more productive and get work done,” she added of the proposed changes.

Some professors, however, expressed doubt that their students will adjust well to the change.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that you’re going to change student culture at Stanford, that student work habits of working late at night are suddenly going to change,” said Richard White, professor of history. “If they don’t, then it’s going to be like high school where there’s a bunch of sleep-deprived students.”

In addition to harboring concerns about inattentive students, Ewart Thomas, a professor of psychology who teaches the popular Stats 60 course, also pointed to a likely increase in student absences from class. His course typically has an enrollment of around 250-300 students each quarter, yet fewer than 150 students attend each class on average.

“It wouldn’t be difficult for me to start my class at 8:30,” Thomas noted. “I really worry about whether students will come. As it is, I don’t think students come to class as much as they should. I might be there, and nobody might show up.”

Rebekah Oragwu ’15, a HumBio major, voiced mixed feelings about Black’s proposal.

This quarter, Oragwu is taking the HumBio core, which goes from 9 to 11 a.m. on Mondays through Thursdays. However, she misses an hour of class twice a week to attend her 10 a.m. introductory seminar.

“I do miss going to class… I still feel like I’m missing out,” Oragwu said. “I like being in an atmosphere where everybody comes together in the same place to learn.”

However, she voiced opposition to the University’s potential prohibition of class schedule conflicts altogether.

“I think you would miss more by not being able to experience that class at all than just not being at a part of it,” Oragwu said. “I don’t think you should block people from taking the class at all if they make the effort to listen to lectures and get the material later.”

Black said he recognizes that some students may want to take two classes at the same time and cited efforts to mitigate the issue.

“We’ve asked departments to look at courses that are seemingly popular pairs and to redistribute,” he said. “We’re emphasizing a full comprehensive look on when they’re offering their courses and in relation to what.”

Tulsee Doshi ’15, a symbolic systems major, said that she doubts the change will be beneficial.

“I think the University is valid in making a schedule to force students to go to class,” Doshi said. “But I think that it’s not a realistic concern given the fact that a lot of students have multidisciplinary interests that are inevitably going to take conflict in the classes that they want to take.”

Because of a scheduling conflict, Doshi currently does not attend her CS 109 course, an issue that she downplayed.

“CS 109 is videotaped, and it’s online,” Doshi said. “I personally feel that in a big lecture hall, sitting in the back of a lecture hall is equivalent to watching the lecture online.”

Black said that he expected students would get used to the changes.

“One of the things I observe is that when you were a freshman, your life was getting up early in the morning and going to high school just a year before,” he said. “There’s no reason why you can’t make that adjustment. You go over to Berkeley and you’re there at 8 o’clock, you’ll see Berkeley students going to class. It’s just an issue of our culture, which I think can be modified slightly. We’re just asking people to get up a little early. Adjust that late-night hour in order to make that first class.”

  • Brad

    Whoops– copy and pasted the email

  • http://www.facebook.com/sevenine Stephanie Liou

    I would just like to highlight one significant point which other commenters have been bringing up (thank you!) — the effect that the earlier start time would have on students’ sleep, performance, and health.

    Here is an excerpt from the Faculty Senate meeting notes on January 24, 2013 when this issue was discussed (full text here: http://facultysenate.stanford.edu/2012_2013/minutes/01_24_13_SenD6707.pdf):

    Professor Moler said, “I’m also a big fan of rationalizing and simplifying the scheduling. Are you aware of any studies of how student learning is influenced by class meeting time? I have the impression that students drag themselves out of bed to show up in my 9:00 AM class, but it’s a lot easier for them to concentrate in their 11:00 AM or 1:15 PM class I was wondering if that’s been studied systematically? If you think about whether to try to reclaim the 8:30-9:30 AM hour, that might affect it.”

    Registrar Black, “I have not done that.”

    In fact, there have been systematic, scientific studies of this phenomenon, also known as the relationship between age, circadian rhythms, and sleep debt. By and large, adolescents and young adults — who comprise most undergraduate students — have delayed sleep phases and their circadian rhythms are shifted to result in more alertness later in the evening. This means that instead of reaching peak alertness from 9-11pm and then naturally becoming sleepier after that, as most adults do, younger people tend to be most awake between 11pm-1am, which is often when Stanford students get their homework done after an evening of student group meetings, review sessions, dance or music practices, work on group projects, part-time jobs, research commitments, etc.

    Waking up in time for a 9am class (never mind being a truly awake, functional member of that class) is already a stretch for many, as Professor Moler noted at the faculty senate meeting — especially for athletes with morning classes. Furthermore, as Professor Thomas pointed out in this article, trying to boost student attendance and engagement in classes by moving start times to 8:30am when 9am classes are already suffering from unpopularity and lackluster attendance just seems counterintuitive, especially for large core classes where paying attention and staying awake in lecture requires more concentration than smaller discussion-based courses.

    I strongly urge the Faculty Senate, Registrar Black, and the Stanford administration to consider the vast amount of research which shows a clear link between school start times (as well as overall sleep quality and quantity) on not only academic and athletic performance, but wellbeing and health. Especially given the stressful nature of student life at Stanford and the constant questions about how to address mental health on campus, further cutting into student sleep time is not the answer.

    Sincerely,
    Stephanie Liou
    Sleep and Dreams Head TA

  • 2013

    PREACH!

    Glad I won’t be around to see all of these negative changes – XOX, Suites, now this…

  • Not amused

    “And for those arguing about sleep deprivation… you could always go to bed earlier?”

    All those late nights I’ve been struggling to stay awake and the consequent mornings when I feel like a truck drove over me… if only I’d been as insightful as you to realize that going to bed earlier was the solution! When I’m not at school and have a job, I get up early (around 7 am) just like the “average” person, thank you very much. However, I’ve found that going to bed at what you might call a “reasonable” hour has been all but impossible here.

    Also, who are you to insinuate that people who don’t go to morning classes “can’t be bothered?” I want to get the most out of my Stanford experience, and during the time when I’m not in class, I’m going to events that departments or student groups are putting on, working in my research lab, going to review sessions or office hours, going to different meetings etc and have rehearsals that I often don’t get back home from until past midnight and only then can I start my work for the night. I used to do the crazy drill of going to bed at 4 or 5 am and then waking up at 8:30am to make it to my 9am class. You know what happened? I was like a zombie. Forever cranky, waaaay less productive during the day, falling asleep during my 9am class, twitching from all the caffeine I was pumping into my body and constantly getting sick because I was giving my immune system a run for its money by never getting any sleep. It was a vicious cycle.

    Yes, I sometimes make the choice to skip my morning classes if it means getting 6 hours of sleep vs. 3. And you know what? I’ve been so much healthier mentally and physically as a result. But by moving classes like language classes which not only meet five days a week, but where attendance is also mandatory, to 8:30am, will guarantee that you will find a classroom full of students nodding off and barely paying attention.

    This change just goes to show how bureaucracy in the Stanford administration continues to rear its ugly head. Let’s tack this issue on to the ever growing list of decisions that will affect the majority of our student population without consulting us (or by pretending to appease us by using a sample size of twelve).

  • Consider This-9am class starts

    The history of the 9am class starts came from a hard won change based on results from Stanford’s own Center for Sleep Research. Research supports the idea that student’s at this stage in their development would experience better outcomes with later class start times than had previously been dictated. The years at Stanford are a once in a lifetime opportunity to have as close to full support in the pursuit of a student’s education and development as can be provided. There is no mention from Mr. Elam, perhaps no one has made him aware of the foundation for the class start times being what they are now. Why is the Sleep Research Center even funded if the results are not intended to be applied or respected? Stanford is likely one of the best and most logical places to put that research to work. Perhaps the Stanford Daily could pull and review the articles of the past when the changes were made to remind the administration why. Mr Elam’s decision seems to be lacking important criteria. The fact that the change came from
    well respected research done at Stanford itself makes what looks to be an absolute admin decision to turn back the clock, embarrassing.