Course Scheduling

WHO teaches which courses? |

WHEN are which courses taught? |

Other considerations

Complicating factors 

Well-timed messages from the Registrar's Office will keep you on track with procedures for preparing a roster of courses for the upcoming year, and a provisional schedule for the following year. Course scheduling is a big and complex job, as it calls on you to balance out the interests and skills of each member of the department, and then to balance faculty preferences with the needs of students (both majors/minors and non-majors). The better relations are within the department, the easier it will be to work out this balance in an amicable way. Here are some of the things to take into account.

WHO teaches which courses?

There are somewhat different issues involved in introductory and more advanced courses.

Introductory courses often have the largest enrollments and the broadest range of students in terms of ability and interest. Some faculty love teaching the introductory course in the department, others may find it an intimidating challenge, and others may be weary of it after having taught it for decades. While there may occasionally be a reason to do otherwise, the first principle should be to share the load.

Upper-level courses: In some departments, where there is significant overlapping of expertise, the governing principle is that no one individual "owns" a course. If more than one person is interested in a course, it gets passed around. In other departments it is less likely that such sharing would occur, because of specific training of faculty members in certain areas. Here the issue is to ensure that an appropriate range of courses are taught at the upper levels, that significant areas of the discipline are represented, and that each faculty member has an appropriate share of both upper and lower level courses.

Courses contributing to the First-Year Academic Program: By faculty legislation (2009), the Faculty Handbook states, "It is expected that all academic departments will contribute to the First-year Academic Program on a regular basis." This program currently consists of  First-Year Seminars (FYS), offered in blocks 1 and 2, and First-Year Writing Courses (FYW), offered in blocks 2 through 9. The first-year program is designed to help students understand and meet academic expectations at the college level, and it is important to the college as a whole, (For example, such programs have been shown to be important for retaining students.) Consider how your department can contribute to this program, while best sharing the responsibility among department members. The Writing Program Committee is available for consultation on the development of writing courses, and the Associate Dean of the College can provide consultations on the First Year Seminars. If you believe that your department will encounter hardship in contributing to the program, speak with the Dean of the College, who may help you to generate creative solutions.

WHEN are which courses taught?

Over the course of the year: The big task of the chair in scheduling is to think about which courses need to be offered in a given year, in which terms, and in how many sections. Which courses have to be available for majors?  What about foundations courses that are open to all?  Or 200-level courses that might get a mix of majors and non-majors?  Which courses must be offered in a strict sequence?  You want to aim for a fairly even spread of different levels of courses throughout the year. Look at the previous year's schedule and enrollment figures (old Course Schedules are available on-line through the Registrar's website) to see if there were any problems, or if it might serve as a model. You might want to have a guideline in place for balancing the various needs, which would help to make sure everyone is on the same page. Examples of possible guidelines include: that each semester, you will offer two 300-level courses; that each semester, the department will offer a course for non-majors; that no block includes more than one course in a given subfield, and so forth.

There may be considerations beyond your department as well. Are your majors also required to take certain courses in other departments?  This often happens in the sciences, and those departments have long been in the habit of coordinating scheduling to avoid conflicts; other departments may want to keep this in mind as well. Sometimes it's not an issue of a required course, but just something you will be encouraging majors in your department to take. If you haven't thought of this at the time of doing your initial scheduling for the upcoming year, you will have another chance to consider it when the Registrar publishes a draft of the schedule. Check this not only for accuracy within your own departmental listings, but for courses in other departments with which you might want to coordinate.

Another kind of extra-departmental consideration has to do with non-departmental courses taught by someone in your department. For example, someone in your department may be in a position to teach a section of Introduction to Women's Studies or Introduction to Ethnic Studies. Such teaching contributions are very important to the college, even while they sometimes create difficulty within a department. The curriculum is built on the strength of the departments, but the college at the same time encourages faculty to have broad interests and to work collaboratively. It is not easy to balance these sometimes conflicting goods. It is easiest to be generous in approving a non-cross-listed course in one of the interdisciplinary programs when it is only an occasional request, not an annual offering. But even when the request is for regular teaching in the interdisciplinary program, see if there is a way to accommodate the needs of both the program and your department. If the person's teaching "out" presents a serious hardship to the department, consider talking to the Dean about the possibility of a visitor hire within the department to cover for the absence.

Other considerations

Although course caps cannot be changed without approval from the Academic Affairs Committee, departments are free to reserve a number of seats for incoming first year students. There are no college rules about the number of seats to save for first year students but it is in the best interest of the department to make as many seats available to first years as possible without creating difficult situations for returning students. The Registrar will provide information about the expected number of first-year students and the number of returning students in each class, and will work with departments in developing course schedules and in establishing returning student caps on introductory courses. (For more on returning student caps on introductory courses, see "Over-Enrollment" below. )

For some departments, the allocation of classrooms is a critical and contentious issue. Certain rooms, such as language and science laboratories or art studios, are dedicated for specific purposes. In most departments, the chair coordinates the departmental room requests, and submits these to the Registrar, sometime in the spring. Encourage department members to be as flexible as possible when making room requests. The Registrar's Office does the best job it can to assign classrooms equitably but a bit of good planning from the department and timely communication with the Registrar can make a big difference in the teaching and learning experience.

Complicating factors

You think you've got everything figured out, and then one of these happens:

  • A person goes on leave for one or more terms (sabbatical or family leave; directing an off-campus program). It's good for people to take such leaves, even though it means you'll have some juggling to do, especially if you're not authorized to hire a replacement (which is more likely to happen for a year's leave than for a one- or two-term leave). In addition to the absence of the courses the person would have taught, people are expected not to have advisees while they are on leave, and not to direct independent studies. Some faculty carry on with these anyway, but this is to be advised against! It is important for them to make the most of their leave. If they say, "But I'll only be gone for one term, so I don't want to inconvenience others," your reply should be, "All the more reason for you to stop the advising and independent studies-you have so little time for leave that you should use it to the maximum for your project."  Check that advisees are reassigned in the latter portion of the term preceding the leave; this can be done by you or by the faculty member going on leave.
  • A person has course release time for a specific college task: for example, directing an all-college initiative. These tasks are important to the college. Try to be proud that someone from your department has been asked to take on one or more of these, at the same time that you try to figure out how to make up for the gap in departmental offerings.
  • A faculty member would like to team-teach a course. The college has no fixed rules for how teaching load is counted for a team-taught course, but for a two-person team-taught course, the common practice is to give full teaching credit to both people for one course. You need to consult with the Dean on any team-teaching arrangement.

Producing the final version of the schedule will take time, and may require multiple stages of negotiation not only internally to the department but also across the college. Following the first and even subsequent submission of schedules, the Dean and Registrar may ask you and other departments and programs to make changes based on the distribution of available seats across the year. It is good to be as accommodating as possible, but you will also need to consider the impact of such changes on majors and on the department schedule as a whole.