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Elam, students meet to discuss course scheduling


Amidst student discontent over proposed changes to class scheduling, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam met with ASSU representatives and concerned students Thursday evening in a session that eventually prompted a consensus toward fostering greater student involvement in University decision-making processes.

The meeting, which had been scheduled by the ASSU Undergraduate Senate’s Academic Affairs committee, was initially framed as an opportunity to engage in discussion with Elam on subjects ranging from advising to freshman academic requirements. Questioning from the 20 students present focused exclusively, however, on prospective scheduling changes that would, among other aspects, situate popular and required classes at early morning times and preclude students from scheduling overlapping classes.

Senator Shahab Fadavi ’15, chair of the Academic Affairs committee, opened the agenda by welcoming Elam’s presence at the meeting and willingness to interact with students.

“He has been one of the most responsive and engaged [administrators] with students,” Fadavi noted.

Elam sought to alleviate student concerns about the proposed reforms, emphasizing that a more streamlined class schedule — and a greater effort to inform departments of potential clashes — would limit the number of conflicts students might experience, while also easing issues with classroom scheduling.

“[Clashes are] going to be the exception rather than the rule,” Elam said.

While Elam noted that neither he nor Registrar Tom Black, who has developed the proposed reforms, would be able to tell departments when to schedule classes, he said that he would instead advise them to take advantage of earlier starting times for popular courses.

In a recent Faculty Senate meeting, Richard Saller, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, noted that human biology — the second-most popular major among undergraduates — would likely shift core courses to 8:30 a.m. starting times. Elam cited language courses as another group of classes that would likely be moved to earlier times.

William Dement, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences who teaches the popular Sleep and Dreams class, argued that the proposed scheduling changes would exacerbate an already prominent issue among Stanford students — that of sleep deprivation.

“It fails to recognize the basic physiology of college students,” Dement argued, noting that the average bedtime of Stanford students is 2:30 a.m.

Ilya Mouzykantskii ’16, who composed a petition protesting the proposed changes that gathered over 1,500 signatures in less than a day, argued that the lack of student consultation was concerning given the evident relevance to the student body as a whole. Black and Elam had consulted 12 undergraduates in the course of finalizing their proposal.

“It seems like yet another example of top-down implementation that makes student life worse,” Mouzykantskii said.

Elam acknowledged the existence of discontent among faculty members as well as students, but framed the changes as necessary.

“[Informing students] is something we have to do better,” Elam conceded.

Dement argued that the revised scheduling could eventually prompt more dire consequences, such as Stanford’s liability for injuries sustained by students through a lack of sleep.

A meeting attendee expressed concern that the change, while beneficial to student-athletes who might otherwise be unable to access classes like Introductory Seminars, failed to take into account the much larger remainder of the student body that does work and extracurricular activities at night.

“All of these other constituencies… we have a vested interest in being able to sleep late at night and later into the morning,” he said. “I feel like you aren’t taking into consideration the less visible groups on campus that this would severely impact.”

Senator Daniela Olivos ’15 expressed support for Black and Elam’s efforts to accommodate varying interests in putting forward their proposal, but acknowledged the need for greater collaboration between the University and the student body as a whole.

“We nominate students to be in committees, but there’s a big gap in what happens in committees and what information is given to the larger student body,” Olivos said.

Elam concluded the meeting after an hour, applauding the constructive nature of the student dialogue and encouraging students to attend the Faculty Senate meeting on March 7, at which Black’s proposal will be further debated.

Marshall Watkins is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily, having previously worked as the paper's executive editor and as the managing editor of news. Marshall is a junior from London majoring in Economics, and can be reached at mtwatkins "at" stanford "dot" edu.