New Schedule Introduces Morning Labs, Classes During Lunch

Ellen Ivens-Duran

A significant majority of the faculty voted on Wed., Sept. 30 to implement a new course schedule beginning next fall. Major features of the modified schedule include having lab-length class slots in the mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, class slots on Tuesdays and Thursday from 11:30 to 12:50 and more classes on Fridays. The new schedule also includes dedicated times for the fourth session of classes that meet four days a week, such as math or foreign language classes.

Administrators have been working on a new schedule for the past four years. Last spring, the formal proposal process began. Two schedules, one administrator-driven and one faculty-driven, were proposed to the faculty and summarily rejected before David Schmitz, then chair of the faculty, and Peter Harvey, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of Whitman, brought in an outside consultant.

“I think that a consultant was necessary…because this is what she does for a living. She is incredibly experienced in this type of thing, and her expertise allowed her to look at other schools and benchmark what they did in terms of their classroom utilization, in terms of their scheduling,” said ASWC President, senior Jack Percival, who served as the student representative on the scheduling sub-committee, which was formed in the spring of 2015. “And also it was necessary because…she was divorced from the internal politics of the Whitman faculty, which I think was the most important factor.”

The consultant, Lori DeRosa of a Boston-based Rickes firm, conducted space-utilization surveys and facilitated meetings with faculty and students in order to draft a proposal that would best meet most needs.

“It doesn’t answer all problems and it can’t meet all demands, but it tries to accommodate as many people, as many curricular needs as possible without creating more conflict,” said Nicole Simek, Associate Professor of French and Interdisciplinary Studies and the division chair of humanities and arts.

For instance, Encounters will receive a slight makeover as this schedule eliminates the stair-step model and has all classes meeting at the same time Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The hope is to allow first-year students to choose from a wider variety of morning classes by standardizing Encounters times.

The new schedule includes changes that might take getting used to. For instance, the possibility of having students in classes until 12:50 necessitates that dining halls extend their hours, and administrators have pledged to make that a reality. Additionally, an attempt to spread class slots more equally could take its toll on Whitman’s four-day weeks.

“With the new schedule it is harder to build, both for students and faculty…a schedule where you have a day off. It is definitely possible, but I think it’s more challenging,” said Percival.

The subcommittee’s hope is that spreading classes out will minimize scheduling conflicts. Many students have difficulty taking classes in different departments because the current schedule can create opportunities for overlap.

“We’re definitely invested in the liberal arts model, where you don’t just specialize in one thing, you put what you’re learning in one department into relationship with others,” said Simek.

Stacey Giusti, Whitman’s Registrar, has been on the project for years, and she agreed with Simek that liberal arts colleges like Whitman should open up space for students to pursue multiple academic interests. She sees this new schedule as part of the solution.

“Someone can take a chemistry lab in the morning and still take a humanities class in the afternoon,” said Giusti.

This vision is a central part of the liberal arts mission, but the schedule will have to be only part of the execution. Faculty members will still have to negotiate class schedules among themselves and with the administration. Students will still have to design their curriculum from the options presented to them. Simek preaches flexibility and attention as the solution to these limitations.

“We’ll have to be vigilant,” she said, “When new trends emerge, we’ll have to see how this new configuration helps us navigate those changes.”