The class scheduling policy for the main campus recently underwent a major revision to comply with more strictly enforced state and federal requirements for credit approval, a shift that not only impacts course schedules beginning next fall but exacerbates university space concerns.
With the new policy, which was proposed by the Main Campus Executive Faculty on Jan. 28 and subsequently approved by Provost James O’Donnell, all main campus classes will begin on the hour and half-hour. Additionally, the policy more clearly outlines that each credit hour requires 50 minutes of course time per week. Three credit seminars that currently meet for 100 minutes per week — which was allowed under the previous policy — will now be required to meet for 150 minutes per week beginning next fall.
“Our academic programs are rigorous and our courses have always required significant class and out-of-class work that leads to desired learning outcomes,” John Pierce, university registrar and assistant provost, said in an email announcement on Monday. “All of these efforts are part of our ongoing work to constantly enhance our academic programs.”.
Professor Terrence Reynolds, chair of MCEF and of the theology department, said the approval of the new policy and schedule resulted from numerous meetings with the registrar, office of the provost, deans, faculty, representatives of the office of federal relations, university legal representatives and faculty.
“It was a careful and substantive consultative process,” Reynolds said.
The university policy was changed as a result of more stringent enforcement of federal and state laws regarding credit hours and scheduling. According to Robert Cumby, former chair and member of MCEF and professor in the economics department, the issue was introduced because the School of Continuing Studies campus in Va. was confronted with stricter enforcement practices by the state authorities.
In an effort to maintain consistency across campuses and to better comply with federal laws, the main campus also adjusted its existing policy. Penalties for non-compliance include loss of eligibility for federal student loans.
The new policy includes more specific language about whether or not credits can be awarded for outside work. Exceptions to the credit policy may only be granted by the corresponding dean with the recommendation of the department or the program and must exhibit significantly additional work expectations that are stated in the syllabus, according to Reynolds. There was no mention of scheduling exceptions in the old policy.
“The new policy creates a real threshold for being an exception where previously there was no systematic close scrutiny,” Cumby said.
More problematic for students and the university, however, is the classroom space required to accommodate the expanded course time for seminars. As a result of the potential overlap, the course schedule was altered to allow for an additional 50 minute and an additional 75 minute block each day, according to Pierce.
However, even with schedule adjustments, the university is still short on space.
“They need to find a number of additional classrooms that are available five days a week to fit existing classes into the new structure,” said Jeffrey Anderson, director of the BMW Center for German and European Studies. “Deans are asking programs to see if they have space that could be used as classrooms, such as libraries or conference rooms that aren’t officially classrooms.”
One concern regarding the implementation of the new policy revolves around how it will impact adjunct professors.
According to Anderson, the changes in the course schedule will make it more difficult for adjunct professors to accept appointments.
“This will require an increase in the pay rate for the adjuncts. We are going to have to raise our rates to keep those same good people coming back,” Anderson said.
Graduate programs also face unique challenges in implementing the new structure.
“If we extend the length of the typical course, we have to use more of the week to fit all of those courses. We have been concerned that Friday will have to be used for graduate seminars and it will be more difficult for students to take on internships,” Anderson said. “We have been working with the administration [to ensure] that the scheduling accommodates those concerns and needs.”
Anderson stated that CGES will implement the policy as written.
“Our students and faculty will adjust the classes to use the additional 40 minutes well,” he said.
Some faculty members see many upsides to the lengthened seminar course time.
“Personally, I am very happy about it because I often run out of time,” said Diana Owen, associate professor of political science and director of American Studies. “With a 100 minute class, I teach straight through with no break. 150 minutes will allow for a break and a more relaxed atmosphere. This is probably a better situation.”
With the lengthened seminar courses, students will also be able to extract more value from each class.
“This is positive for the students because it will create more contact time with professors and students,” Cumby said.