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Allston Move Could Mean the End of 'Harvard Time'

By Melissa C. Rodman and Luca F. Schroeder, Crimson Staff Writers

Two new proposals for course timetables ahead of the construction of a new campus in Allston could do away with the “endearing” and idiosyncratic features of the Harvard undergraduate schedule.

At Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris will give a presentation summarizing the work of a task force charged with suggesting course scheduling changes in anticipation of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’s move to Allston in 2020.

According to a five-page memorandum distributed to faculty and obtained by The Crimson, Harris is scheduled to present two proposals, both of which would increase the passing time between classes within Cambridge and accommodate travel between Cambridge and Allston. The proposals both suggest doing away with “Harvard time”—the seven minute period grace period after a course is scheduled to begin.

In the memo, Harris recommended the pass time within the Cambridge campus be 15 minutes. Scheduling travel between Allston and Cambridge, Harris wrote, “is more complicated.” One proposal would stagger courses across the two campuses such that students have 45 minutes to traverse from Cambridge to Allston and 75 minutes for the return trip; the other proposal leaves an hour of passing time in both directions.

“Students report that the very existence of what they call ‘Harvard time’ detracts from the sense of seriousness surrounding academics. Anecdotes aside, with a much larger campus it is simply unfeasible to continue with either the official five minutes of pass time or the unofficial seven minutes of pass time,” Harris wrote. “When one adds the expansion of the FAS into Allston, the need for re-thinking pass times becomes indisputably necessary.”

One of the proposals also allows for the “de-compression of the instructional week,” while the other “largely accommodates the current practice of limited Friday instruction.”

The memo also notes that central to the success of both proposals is a “proper regulatory regime that does away with ‘non-compliant times’ and other endearing and unique features of ‘Harvard time.’” To this end, the memo suggests limiting the number of courses a department can schedule during any time slot, thus spreading courses over the day and across the academic week.

“It is only through such a regulatory regime that we will succeed in our goals of de-compressing the instructional day and week, and restoring academics as the central focus of our students’ experience of time,” the memo reads. “Indeed, it is only through such a regime that, a century after the Faculty expressed this aspiration, we might finally achieve ‘profitable rearrangement of the hours of College courses.’”

Administrators have discussed comparable changes to the academic schedule since the task force was first convened in 2013.

On Tuesday, Faculty members also will vote on a merger between the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies and the Standing Committee on the Ph.D. in Film and Visual Studies, according to a meeting agenda obtained by The Crimson.

Under the proposed merger, first presented at last month’s Faculty meeting, the standing committee would be dissolved and VES would offer a doctoral program in Film and Visual Studies, a first for the 50-year-old, undergraduate-only department. Non-VES faculty on the committee would be offered affiliate status in the department, allowing them to advise graduate students and teach classes in the program, serve on exam and dissertation committees, and sit on a new Film and Visual Studies Graduate Committee. A Director of Graduate Studies would replace the former FVS chair.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at melissa.rodman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

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Visual ArtsFASFAS AdministrationAllston