Harvard Faculty Debate Proposed FAS Schedule Changes

Faculty pressed Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris on a new policy that would alter course schedules and increase standard class length to 75 minutes at the Faculty meeting Tuesday.

Harris presented a proposal for the revised schedule, which is designed to allow students to take consecutive classes on the College’s Cambridge campus and forthcoming Allston campus, slated to open in 2020. The Faculty will be able to vote on the proposal at its next meeting in April.{shortcode-7cc8fcd0447ae210e8a6649e3b7d86d6784a4d25}

In order to increase scheduling efficiency, Harris proposed a designated set of start times for courses with 15 minutes of passing in between classes on the same campus. This would eliminate the de facto seven minute grace period for class beginnings known as “Harvard Time.”

“I do want to remind you that in many ways our scheduling practices, most of them actually, date to 1891,” he said.

According to FAS Dean Michael D. Smith, the Faculty Committee—the Faculty’s highest elected body—unanimously approved the motion.


After Harris’s presentation, ten professors inquired about the composition of the proposal, asking questions on topics ranging from pedagogical concerns to worries about the technology used for scheduling.

English professor James Engell questioned how the proposed expanded class day—with the bulk of classes occurring between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. instead of the current 10 a.m. and 2 p.m—would affect professors with morning commutes.

“There may be a lot of faculty who don’t want to teach at 9 a.m.,” Engell said. “It’s not an easy commute for people.”

Engell also said he worried athletes would see diminished choice in classes given the longer course length.

“Students who are athletes who often have practices and commitments that begin at 2:30 or so,” Engell said. “Those students, it would seem, therefore have a reduced number of classes that they could attend.”

Responding to Engell, Harris said that many schools, including Stanford, begin classes at 8 a.m. and that athletic teams may have to adjust their practices to accommodate the proposed change.

“We are after all an educational institution and our student-athletes are student-athletes,” Harris said. “We will be working with all of them in different ways to think how they rethink elements of their practices to accommodate our mission.”

Other professors questioned Harris about the 75 minute class block and associated passing time, asking if existing classes would have to alter their length or if students would have too much passing time in if a professor did not use the entire 75 minutes.

Harris said that as long as start times were uniform, class lengths could vary, and that the new schedule was designed to accommodate a variety of teaching styles. He said that the potential extra passing time would be a trade-off to achieve the schedule’s larger goals.

“We’re trying not to have random start times, which is what we have today,” Smith said. “If you shorten the pass time, then those individuals who need the pass time are disadvantaged.”

Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations professor Shaye J.D. Cohen asked Harris which classes would be offered in Allston following the construction of the new campus. Smith replied that in the future, more departments and courses could follow SEAS across the river, and Harris specifically mentioned that certain freshman seminars could move to Allston.

University President Drew G. Faust ended discussion of the motion shortly after 5:00 p.m. and told Faculty that discussion will continue at April’s meeting, when the Faculty could potentially approve the motion.

Government professor Danielle S. Allen also presented an update on the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging at the meeting. University President Drew G. Faust convened the committee in September to evaluate Harvard’s efforts to create an inclusive environment. According to Allen, the committee is currently in a phase of “learning and discovery” and will present an official report in the spring of 2018.

“We are not going to be making specific proposals on a school by school basis,” Allen said. “We expect to be proposing recommendations that recognize the diversity of schools across campus.”

The Faculty also approved the creation of a new Master’s Program in Data Science, following a motion by Statistics Department Chair Neil Shephard. There was no opposition from the Faculty.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

–Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.


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