By Angela Zhang
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.
“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.”
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.”