“Sign this petition, you with the USF shirt!” could be heard across Harney Plaza last Wednesday, Nov. 11, as three student protesters urged passersby to sign a petition to protest the new class schedule announced by James L. Wiser, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Junior Kevin Kunze organized the protest, after a number of professors expressed their discontent with the new class schedule, announced in a Nov. 3 message to faculty. “If professors are complaining, it should be a serious concern for students,” he said.
Wiser proposed that a Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Tuesday-Thursday schedule format would replace the existing Monday-Wednesday and Tuesday-Thursday schedule beginning in the fall 2010 semester, which has been in place for the last eight years.
Converting twice-a-week courses into three days would make each class run about 50 minutes. In the email to faculty, he said the new schedule was formed in response to the space problem that the university has been facing. Many professors were given classrooms with inadequate space for their class size, forcing them to resort to lounges or library rooms, or no classrooms were found at all.
Wiser said the new class schedule will allow an additional 180 course sections on Monday-Wednesday-Friday and 60 sections on Tuesday-Thursday. “At the beginning of the fall 2009 term we had approximately 40 course sections without classrooms,” Wiser said.
After student complaints circulated, Wiser sent out a message to the university on Nov. 12, explaining that the new schedule format starting in the fall 2010 semester was a proposed plan, not a final resolution. Wiser said at a November Policy Board Meeting with faculty that the message was intended to eradicate students’ misconceptions on the class schedule proposal.
Yet amongst students, the proposed plan has not been taken lightly. After only an hour out in Harney Plaza, Kunze said he accumulated about 7 pages worth of signatures. He has since continued to ask anyone who crosses his path to sign the petition, eventually gathering over 600 signatures.
Rebecca Waterhouse was one of many students who signed the petition. “It’s less logical making people take Friday classes,” she said, since many students commute and would have to come on Fridays for only a 50-minute class.
Students are concerned about the short time frame, since “50 minutes is going back to high school,” Maggie Gehegan said, but also about the flow of information. Gehegan said “I was annoyed that [the administration] didn’t tell the students.”
Senior class representative John Coon stopped by the protest, but chose not to sign the petition. “The way it is labeled, I’m not comfortable signing the document,” he said. A handout listing the “Pros and Cons for the ‘New Measurement’” was distributed at the protest, but Coon said after reading the provost’s message, he believes the new class schedule will benefit the students, and said that the “detractor is actually the faculty.”
University of San Francisco Faculty Association (USFFA) President Elliot Neaman said there is a “rumor that students would just skip Friday. I think they have a responsibility to come to class,” commenting on certain students’ unwillingness to give up their Friday.
As for the faculty, Neaman said professors have a problem because they use Fridays for research, or work outside of their teaching responsibilities. Professors have also already organized their courses around twice-a-week time slots, and do not believe that 50 minutes is enough time to lecture. In accordance with students, the new class schedule also conflicts with professors who commute to the city.
“When I first heard about it, I understood why the university was doing it, but I anticipated the provost to write out reasons for it and then present it to faculty,” he said. Neaman then comprised a survey with help from the psychology department, to collect data on “who was against it, for what reasons, and from what department. Sometimes home has to do with what are the surrounding issues,” he said.
The decision was “not clear to me that the new schedule had to be done quickly.,” he said “The provost has admitted that the process of consulting faculty could have been done better.”
From the survey, Neaman learned that about 70 percent of faculty opposed the schedule, and 30 percent were in favor. “Scientists are here 3 days a week and they don’t see why their colleagues are upset. One more day [to them] isn’t so bad.” Neaman said that many professors are already on campus 5 days a week, and resent that others have reduced their teaching schedule to three, two, or even one day. “Some feel the new policy will lead to a more vibrant university life, and force departments to establish more equitable schedules,” he said.
To resolve issues with the administration, a Policy Board meeting was held on Nov. 11 with the provost, Dean of Academic Services BJ Johnson, and Associate Dean of Academic and Enrollment Services and University Registrar Archie Porter, and members of the faculty.
Favoring the schedule change, several faculty members pointed out that it would allow more faculty interaction on campus and more opportunities to work with students. Alternative solutions were also given, one that would keep the Monday-Wednesday schedule and still create additional slots, by making classes run 180 minutes rather than 200 minutes.
Media Studies Professor Andrew Goodwin said, “I have argued for years that it would be good to teach a Wednesday-Friday class. It would be nice to have been asked about that idea. Our chair in media studies also pointed out to me that a Friday-Monday 75 minute class could . work very well. We could easily work out a rational way to maximize space at USF and keep everybody busy on Fridays without making cumbersome and irrational proposals that would set the University back ten years.”
However, deadlines for implementing a new schedule are fast approaching, with the Colleges of Arts and Sciences on Dec. 4th. To this problem, Wiser said he would consult with deans to see if there is room to expand the timeline in developing a new schedule.
Neaman said the meeting was “very productive,” because the administration now understands the problems that faculty are facing.
If students would like to take part in the conversation, senior representative Jon Coon said they could approach Senate with their concerns. “Whenever a big issue comes out, it’s not a formalized process,” he said. “Students can come in and speak up.” Coon said that Senate could invite tWiser to speak at a Senate meeting, and answer any concerns students may have.