Given the impending relocation of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to Allston in 2020—a walk across the Charles River from Harvard’s Cambridge campus—the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has begun to reconsider the scheduling of classes. Dean of Undergraduate Studies Jay M. Harris presented two proposals to the faculty at their monthly meeting and has made his goals clear: The new academic schedule will attempt to “[de-compress] the instructional day” so that “the great richness of [Harvard’s] catalog” will be made available to students and “[restore] academics as the central focus of [students’] experience of time.”
The proposals entertained by the faculty contain various improvements to Harvard’s current schedule system. For example, one proposal advocates for at least 45 minutes of travel time between Allston and Cambridge, and Harris champions 15 minutes of travel time within the Cambridge campus. These changes could come at the expense of Harvard time, a cherished eccentricity of Harvard’s schedule. Admittedly, the seven minutes can prove insufficient for many students, and faculty bemoan the informality around classes that it encourages. Nevertheless, only time will tell whether the logistical advantage outweighs the tradition of Harvard time.
Another proposed change is to designate Wednesdays as a day for seminars. Though this change would increase flexibility on other days, it may cause an overwhelming load of classes for students in seminar-intense concentrations. This change may also increase the frequency of Friday classes, which could prove problematic for student-athletes and fatal to three-day weekends.
Nevertheless, the goal of improving the accessibility and flexibility of Harvard’s catalog remains laudable in principle. Missing out on taking a class for several semesters often means missing out on it for good. This shift should consider the interests of the whole student body. The rescheduling of classes is an opportunity to make sure they better align with student-athletes’ schedules so that they can delve into whatever field interests them, rather than the concentration that does not interfere with practice and game times.
As the move to Allston is planned, we are also interested in the steps the University will take to ensure that students with disabilities can easily access class offerings there. Although the new campus itself will be fully accessible, travel to the area is often difficult for those in need of accessible transportation.
Though the plans presented to the FAS are in the early stages, we hope that students are consulted on this momentous change before anything is decided. As provisional as the proposals may be, the faculty will benefit from collaborating with students, who will eventually have to live by whatever schedule is eventually implemented. To take into account students’ interests is not a concession to the spirit of academic seriousness that the faculty seek to promote, but instead a basic measure that will provide faculty with broader ideas and new perspectives.
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