Updated, 3/29, 5:00 a.m.
Space limitations are forcing the University to schedule classes at the extremes of the day, with some lectures this fall starting as early as 8:40 a.m. and some seminars running until 10 p.m.
With few exceptions, the earliest class currently offered to undergraduates begins at 9 a.m. and the latest ends at 8 p.m. The addition of two new 75-minute lecture periods—at 8:40 a.m. and at 7:40 p.m.—and one new 110-minute seminar period at 8:10 p.m. “will significantly increase the number of classes that can be scheduled in existing classrooms,” University Registrar Barry Kane wrote in an email.
The University’s course enrollment has grown by 20,000 students since 1998—when the last major review on classroom space was conducted—while total student enrollment has grown more slowly, from almost 23,000 students in 2001 to about 28,000 students in 2011.
That growth, coupled with the fact that only 4 percent of seminar classes are offered on Fridays, has created an extraordinary crunch for space on the Morningside Heights campus—an issue that will not begin to be resolved until some departments and graduate schools make the move to Manhattanville in 2016.
“What we have been doing is suggesting to departments that they use early Friday as a seminar day,” Kathryn Yatrakis, dean of academic affairs, said. “We’ve already done that with a number of language departments, because we just have to spread out—we’re getting too clumped.”
While this new schedule uses classroom space more efficiently than the current one, some faculty members recognized that the changes will pose new challenges for departments.
Patricia Culligan, vice dean of academic affairs at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said that she hopes to keep core classes in similar time slots.
“For the classes that are getting very large, it has been necessary,” she said. “Faculty have expressed concern about the earlier slot, so you’ll see that the shifts for core classes are no more than 10 to 15 minutes.”
Pascale Hubert-Leibler, director of the French Language Program, said that the French department had reviewed the new schedule, but was curious to see how it would affect classes next year.
“We’ve looked at it and there are a few things that we were a bit skeptical about,” she said. “If we move some classes from nine to something like a quarter to nine, is it going to make it harder for the students to get to class on time?”
Faculty members have said that limited space for teaching is an issue they notice. “It’s great to see the school expanding the schedule,” Kai Yang, a professor in the electrical engineering department, said. “I feel there are a lot of students with too few resources.”
Yang, who said he noticed a jump of about 50 students taking his communication theory class in one year, said that the registrar “must make sure that professors have enough space or the teaching quality will decline.”
At SEAS, where some classes last 150 minutes, the new master schedule allows for classes to last until 9:30 or 10 p.m. Culligan said that SEAS will adopt some of the changes, but is trying not to make substantial changes to its Friday schedule.
The changes also address some difficulties in scheduling language classes. Currently, students who take an elementary language course have the option to have a class five days each week for 50 minutes, or three classes each week for 75 minutes.
“For French, we have a problem with the different formats in which we offer the classes,” Hubert-Leibler said. “We would like to see whether we can get these two formats closer together.”
After about 10 weeks, the students enrolled in the three-classes-a-week course have lost almost an entire week of instruction.
“We have always been committed to proposing different methods to the students,” she said. “We’re just looking to get our formats closer together.”
With the new schedule, students will now have the option to take a course that meets four times each week for 65 minutes—which is 10 minutes more of classroom instruction than a course that meets five times each week for 50 minutes.
“The more uniform the schedule can be, the easier it is for students to have classes,” Culligan said. “We can maximize the use of the classroom space on campus.”
Still, some students said that they were unhappy about the possibility of having a lecture class at 8:40 a.m.
“I probably wouldn’t sign up for a class that was that early,” said Vivek Bhagwat, SEAS ’13. “I’ve had two classes here that were at nine and I rarely went to them.”
Abbee Cox, CC ’14, said that students still have the option to take later classes if their schedule permits.
“If you can’t get up that early then don’t sign up for classes that early,” she said. “You can make your schedule—if that’s what they had to do to fit in more classes, I think it’s fine.”
Lillian Chen contributed reporting.
Correction: A previous version of this story implied that number of students at Columbia has grown by about 20,000 since 1998. Total number of course enrollments has grown by about 20,000 since 1998, while the actual number of students has grown more slowly. Spectator regrets the error.