Scheduling disrupts good life
Sanjay Paul

The article appeared in The Etownian, Feb. 25, 2010.

You live a life of glamour. You are constantly hobnobbing with the rich and famous, traveling to exotic places and attending social functions where people with trays offer you things to nibble on.

Who are you?


A department chair.

But your life of excess is tempered by one duty: course scheduling. Every semester you must figure out how to fit 50 classes into the College’s weekly calendar. You have to decide whether international management gets taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — and to make sure that corporate strategy is not offered at the same time.

Now, this sort of thing wouldn’t normally be a major problem, except some years ago, the College switched from a three-credit curriculum to a four-credit curriculum. While some departments made the change to classes with four contact hours (or 200 minutes) a week, many did not. As a result, the calendar did not undergo much modification, leaving those departments that teach four hours per week to try to squeeze their classes into an uncongenial calendar.

So, you are faced with the problem of trying to accommodate your 200-minute classes into a calendar that is largely designed for 150-minute classes. Worse, some of your colleagues have a distinct preference for teaching only two days a week.

“I have a distinct preference for teaching only two days a week,” said one, leaving those who teach on the Mon-Wed-Fri schedule thinking dark thoughts about banning their errant colleague from the faculty lounge.

But you cannot schedule 50 classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There aren’t enough time slots, nor rooms, and besides, students might balk at attending classes from 5 a.m. to midnight.

So you rely on old-fashioned collegiality to distribute classes throughout the week. Your goal is not only to ensure that your colleagues are happy, but also that your students will have a smattering of classes to choose from on all five days of the week. For if the students are unable to get their required classes in time, all hell will break loose. They will come to you brandishing petitions, they will drag a reluctant dean into the fray, and they may even prevail upon their harried parents to make phone calls. As a department chair, you do not want to get phone calls from harried parents. Actually, you don’t want to get any phone calls at all (especially from Bryan Greenberg, but that’s another story).

So you work on the course schedule, hoping that collegial instincts will prevail — and nobody will be banned from the faculty lounge.

In the meantime, what about that life of glamour? By the time you get done with course scheduling, you will have no time left for any hobnobbing. Those munchies on trays will have to wait.

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