Harvard Time is Gone. Here's How to Navigate the New Schedule
Drew G. Faust’s presidency isn’t the only thing students are kissing good-bye this semester.
Harvard has implemented an entirely new and strictly regimented course schedule system, making “Harvard Time” — a College quirk that allowed students to arrive seven minutes late to every class — a thing of the past.
The fall term and the new schedule kick off Tuesday. So here’s a primer on how it works, why it was implemented, and what this means for the future of punctuality on campus.
Why is Harvard switching to a new schedule?
The new schedule, which the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to approve last semester, is partly meant to prepare for the opening of Harvard’s new campus in Allston. Class times are now staggered on the Allston and Cambridge campuses to allow students additional time to travel between courses that are now separated by about a mile — and the Charles River.
Though the Allston campus — which will house much of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences — is slated to open in 2020, the next two years are meant to serve as a trial run.
“The idea was to implement this new schedule this year while we have a chance to see how it works, to see how it works across the FAS course catalog,” said Noël Bisson, associate dean of undergraduate education. “When the time comes to implement across the river, we'll be that much more experienced and understand better where the pain points may be.”
How does the new system work?
The new schedule standardizes class start and end times, extends the standard course length from 60 to 75 minutes, and eliminates Harvard Time. All of this is supposed to make it easier for students to predict when and for how long courses will be held and to give them more time between classes.
Courses can now begin at one of several designated time periods. In the morning, the earliest round of classes in Cambridge must begin at 9 a.m. The second earliest round begins at 10:30 a.m.; the next round after that begins at noon; and so on and so forth, with 90-minute intervals between every round.
Professors — many of whom have been teaching 60-minute versions of their courses for years — are not required to use their entire allotted 75 minutes. Courses that are by necessity longer than 75 minutes, such as some labs and seminars, will be restricted to certain time slots.
Given that there is now almost always 90 minutes between classes, and given that most classes are now restricted to 75 minutes, students will have a 15-minute passing period between classes.
To understand how this works, consider a 9 a.m. class (which, remember, now starts at 9 a.m. exactly and not at 9:07 a.m.). That 9 a.m. class can end at 10:15 a.m. at the latest, meaning enrollees are guaranteed at least 15 minutes of travel time before the next round of classes begins at 10:30 a.m. at the earliest.
So, to those students panicking about losing seven minutes of Harvard Time: you're actually gaining eight minutes of travel time under the new system.
What about Allston?
Allston classes will typically start and end 45 minutes after Cambridge classes do.
In Cambridge, the first classes of the day start at 9 a.m and the last classes start at 7:30 p.m. In Allston, classes will start at 9:45 a.m. The second round of Allston classes will start at 11:15 a.m., the third at 12:45 p.m., and so on.
This staggering is supposed to give undergraduates — the vast majority of whom live in Harvard housing in Cambridge — time to make the roughly mile-long trek across the river.
How is this different from the old schedule?
The new schedule most obviously axes Harvard Time and increases the average class length. The standardization of start and end times also imposes a rigid order on what was an unruly and almost wholly unregulated scheduling landscape.
Under the new system, moreover, departments are required to spread out their course offerings evenly across the day.
In an April 2017 memo to faculty, Jay M. Harris, former dean of undergraduate education, wrote that more than 80 percent of all lecture courses were offered between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The new schedule will allow for “de-compression of the instructional day,” he wrote in the memo.
Harry R. Lewis ’68, a Computer Science professor and former dean of the College, wrote in an email that he thinks the new schedule is a “perfectly rational re-set.”
“Seven minutes wasn’t realistic either as the classroom locations spread out,” Lewis wrote. “So the new scheme leaves a full 15 minutes between the end of one class and the start of the next.”
Does this mean Shopping Week is ending too?
No, that particular quirk is here to stay.
The change to the course schedule will not affect “shopping week,” a one-week period at the beginning of each semester during which students can walk freely in and out of classes to test out or "shop" them. Undergraduates typically make their final decisions and enroll at the end of the week.
But shopping week may not be entirely safe.
The faculty debated the merits of eliminating shopping week in favor of a pre-registration system last April. At a March 2018 meeting, many faculty spoke in favor of the idea, noting that shopping week is tough on graduate students because they are often slotted to help teach classes based on demand. Giving undergraduates a full week to dither over which courses they're taking can leave these graduate teaching assistants in an uncomfortable state of limbo, the professors argued.
As of Sept. 2018, however, no one has put forward an official proposal to get rid of shopping week.
So what’s next?
A committee will reevaluate the new schedule system in 2019, and again in five years.
—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22.
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