The Schedule Rules- Schedule Reform Ideas for Higher Education (Bucknell)

I have a conflict.  I can’t go.  I have a meeting.  I have to be with my kids.

Read on to take the poll!

These are the various reason why students, staff, and others can not come to various worthy events at Bucknell.  For example, Tuesday nights are the one day without classes at night (lol except Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).  So the Bucknell Forum, as well as others, use Tuesday as the ideal night for these events.  Guess what?  It is also when students schedule their various clubs and organizations including the powerful Greek orgs.

At the same time, I have ahd students avoid 4-5 or 02-5 commitments because of sports practices or games/events.

Meanwhile, no one likes 8 a.m. classes.

And, most weeks there are 2-3 events which I would like to participate in but can’t because they are in the 7-9 at night window when I am with my family.

The schedule rules.  It is not sexy.  It is not “cool” like smart boards in classrooms, service-learning, or student-led expeditions to tag pythons for an ecology class.  However, I suggest that in terms of making life better AND using current resources better (as in more attendance at more events), the schedule is the most over-looked and also most urgent area of reform.

I have imagined various STRUCTURAL changes to the schedule which might help lessen some of these inherent conflicts.  When I mention them in conversation with Bucknellians, people usually smile wistfully and have the look on their face they reserve for “nice idea, won’t work you foolish idealist.”  I imagine this is the look a physicist or engineer has when someone invents a fricitionless machine or cold fusion or a better mousetrap.  That thinking is exactly what forecloses the power of imagination.  More specifically  the schedule is already seen as a compromise of many agendas.  TO change it opens up huge political discussions about who matters, why, and what claim they have on our resources.  In fact, it reminds me of a discussion about a budget.  Discussions about budgets, be they Bucknell’s, Enron’s, or the US Government’s ARE moral and political discussions.

I don’t know why schedules aren’t seen the same way.  Because it is time, maybe, and seems like air to be a common and not scarce, private resource like money or other tangible resources?

But of course, I believe private and public overlap and reinforce each other. Private wealth depends on common resources; private use of time depends on public choices about how time is apportioned.

Ok, philosophy aside, here are some core ideas to change the schedule.

Rather than start form how the schedule IS, and tinker with changes, let us start with what a schedule should do.  Like zero-based budgeting, we start with a clean slate.

The schedule should do the following in order of importance.

1) Provide enough class time

2) Provide flexibility for today’s style of teaching which is more dependent on experiential learning in it’s many guises (service-learning, work experience, collaborative learning, media production, labs, field visits, and so on).

3) Enable the most possible attendance at co-curricular, “life of the mind” events (lectures, events, panels, screenings, performances, etc).  This means minimizing structural conflicts.

4) Foster community by minimizing work-family conflicts

5) Accommodate the needs of faculty governance

6) Accommodate the needs of athletics

7) Accommodate the needs of student groups

8) Accommodate the broader public

Do you agree or disagree with this order?


Does the Schedule RULE?

Because in reality, I think athletics is tied for first at Bucknell which is considered a moral victory relative to “big time sports” schools.

Ok, now, based on my ranking, here are some concrete ideas.

1) The class schedule should run from 9-12 and from 1-6 with some 20-23 (8 pm to 11 pm) nights.  Currently, it runs from 8-5, MWF and 8:30-12 and 1-5 TTH.  Plus night classes on M, W, and Th.   The current schedule then is 27 (MWF)  + 15 (TTH) + 9 (nights)= 51 hours a week.  My proposal is then 15 (mornings)+ 25 (afternoons) + 9 (evenings) which is 49 a week.  Hopefully that is close enough.


  • There is an hour in the middle of EVERY day to accomodate co-curricular events as well as governance and student needs.
  • Starting later reflects the reality of interest in later times AND research showing that young people really aren’t functioning well that early.
  • 9 am start better enables staff with children to make sure their kids are off to school especially if the school districts and U co-ordinate).
  • Athletic practices can happen from 6:30-8:30 a.m.  Sorry, you signed up for this life.  And our needs to claw back 5-7 p.m. outweigh your needs to practice then.
  • If I have to teach at night, I don’t see how a 7 or 8 start makes that much of a difference.  In fact  when I had younger kids, the later the better as it means I have MORE time with them.

2) Block noon hours to minimize conflicts.  The core idea here is to create categories (blocks) so that there are fewer structural conflicts among events that appeal or require similar audiences or even the same person.  For example, just as an example, maybe the blocks are as such.  I guess they would have to be simply strong guidelines as I would not want arts to sacrifice a good opportunity just because their day was Tuesday.

Monday: Faculty Governance and Student Governance/Groups (Like, 1st and 3rd Mondays Faculty meeting, 2nd and 4th Departments or other all-faculty needs.

Tuesday: Arts and Humanities Events/Speakers

Wednesday: STEM Events/Speakers

Thursday: Social Science Events/Speakers

Friday: Faculty Development

3) Athletic events limited to some particular days.  I don’t know how many events/week are needed for the sports. But, having some on Mondays, some on Wednesdays and some on weekends creates stress and trade offs for student-athletes, faculty, and students wanting to support the events.  I don’t like a student having to choose between a Basketball game, a big name speaker, and their environmental club meeting.  Is Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday enough?  That is, ahem, four days out of seven.

“Oh but the conferences and other schools…”  I have heard it- our schedule has to mesh with other institutions.  Well, we have four days a week for athletics.  If that can not work, then we need to talk about priorities.

4) Revamped common hour system.  I like the idea of being able to specify that I need students outside of class some.  For example, in my class this semester, I would love to have three two hour sessions about blogging and three screenings of two hours each.  As it stands, I am “not allowed” to schedule anything outside of classtime.   I could ask for a common hour, but I don’t want or need the students for an hour every week.

With, you know, modern IT, it seems faculty could note that a given class will need to meet at certain times, say four evenings in the semester.  I would have to specify weeks 1,3,5,7, for example.  And Monday nights.  That way a student could sign up for my class AND a Wednesday night class.  We could use algorithims to tell me when schedules are made that, based on past student sign ups, my choice of weeks 1,3,5,7 is likely to pose a conflict with class X which is often co-registered.  Fine.  I move to 2,4,6,8.  If I know months ahead of time which nights I get extra time, then I plan the syllabus around it.

5) Flex days.  Each semester, there should be perhaps 3 or 4 “flex days.”  These would have NO athletic events on them.  They would be available for longer field trips, for extended experiential learning, for class-based events (like, maybe a poster session?  A mini conference?  A performance?).  They could also be used for all-campus events tied to common readings or other issues. Some could be held in “reserve” for all campus teach-ins or other needs.

The semester MUST be exactly 14.5 weeks long!  Why?  Who says?  If there are the SAME number of class sessions, but the WHOLE semester lasts longer, what is the problem?

6) An extra reading day.  I love that time to check in with students on their final projects.

7) Later Spring Semester start.  Finally, not exactly necessary, but I don’t understand why we rush to start classes in early January.  Downsides: it is cold (expensive to heat?).  I need more time to prep for new semester.  When the campus, which we pay a ton to make beautiful, is most enjoyable in May, students are gone.  Even pushing the whole thing a week back would be nice, if not two.  Commencement too late then?  Move it up!  Why do we have that weird lag where they all go away for a week?  My undergrad school didn’t have it.

Also, we could have January abroad programs this way.  Summer abroad programs could still be fit in, I think.

What do you think?  Don’t tell me why it is not possible, tell me what you like and what you don’t.

I googled “higher education daily schedule reform” and got NOTHING on this in top 20 hits.


Filed under higher education, liberal arts, Org Design, Uncategorized

6 responses to “The Schedule Rules- Schedule Reform Ideas for Higher Education (Bucknell)

  1. Margot Vigeant

    In principle, I like a lot of what you propose. It’s just too darned difficult to schedule anything, and our lock-step 52 or 82 minute class sessions tend to enforce certain teaching approaches that can easily be exactly timed and controlled.
    In practice, as with when admissions tried to make “all visits for Chemical Engineering on Thursdays” it just doesn’t line up with how the world works. Thinking specifically of your “Tuesday = humanities; Wednesday = STEM…..” proposal, it means that I would actually have less option to attend talks that might be relevant to me than I can now, because all of the STEM stuff would be simultaneous. It’s nice to insure that I can attend a breadth of events, but depth is important too. More pressing is thinking about our speakers – as you know, particularly for invited speakers, we don’t often have much choice, they can only come when their schedule allows.

    I also have a different definition of “the problem”. At capacity, the student sections of Sojika hold ~1000 students. Trout holds ~300. The Forum holds ~250. Harvey Powers holds ~250. Weis holds 2,000. Making reasonable space for some community members in each of these (besides basketball where they’re already counted), we still fill all of these before we run out of students, faculty, and administrative staff. If we take a “bad” conflict night, as we had the other week, where two good speakers were up against each other and a game, even at absolute capacity, the MAJORITY of students, faculty, and administrative staff were doing something else with their evenings.
    These conflicting events only conflict in the sense that, for the highly involved people, they have to make a choice. But really, it is completely theoretically possible for our community to support three simultaneous evening activities. But they weren’t sold out, not all of them, I don’t think they even got close. Last night’s basketball game might have had 100 students who were *not* on the team, in the band, cheerleaders, dancers, or working. I think this is about how people end up choosing to allot their time much more than it is about worthy events being in conflict.

  2. Margot- Don’t start by saying it can’t be done! That is half of my point. If we agree there is a “problem” and then immediately impose what is feasible constraints on we limit the space of solution.s

    As to the blocking, i had also thought it could be something like “management, chemistry, math, classics” on one day, other departments on another. That way, someone could go to our department one day and related departments other days. I should have written it that way but chickened out.

    I realize it couldn’t be “mandatory.” If “great opportunity A” was only possible on your department’s off-day, then do it then.

    I am proposing a kind of enhanced “honor system” here. Part of it would involve making public the ideal of the block system. There would need to be all kinds of “tipping points” to reinforce it. Like, including the blocks on webpages and in other places where people make scheduling decisions. Maybe a “scheduling audit” group who could check on consistency and if there are egregious offenders call them out. Part of this is asking for everyone to put into practice a more communitarian ethos about time.

    I like your idea of studying this in terms fo capacity and absorption rate. I would love to have really good, deep time logs or other qualitative studies of how people spend time, actually. Not only surveys. I am skeptical of surveys asking people who they think they spent their time.

    If the “average” student is going to 2 sports events, 2 life of the mind events, and 2 student events a week, would I think of that as a success? Probably. Are they now? I think your question raises the point that we don’t know well.

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