After several years of discussion among University faculty members, a midday Common Time has been established to create space for meetings during the lunch hour. The introduction of this common time coincides with moving morning classes 10 minutes earlier and afternoon classes 10 minutes later. Beginning next fall, the two-year pilot program will determine whether or not such a change is effective.
The decision was made at a faculty forum in which the motion to introduce a common time passed with a 2-1 margin amongst 120 faculty members. Andrews Professor of Economics and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Joyce Jacobsen expressed interest in the proposed measure, citing advantages for faculty members who are unable to attend meetings in their entirety.
“I support the concept that by bringing it into this time, it will be easier for many faculty members, particularly those that have family responsibilities at night, to be able to attend [meetings],” Jacobsen said. “Over the past week, I’ve been spending a lot of time working with the registrar’s office because the registrar reports in to me, and also with [Professor of Music and Professor of Latin American Studies] Eric [Charry] so that we can make sure to implement [the common time] in a timely fashion.”
In the late 1990s, the University was involved in a pilot program in which classes started half an hour earlier in order to create more time in the afternoon, especially for faculty members with caregiving responsibilities. The program was ultimately unsuccessful due to low student and faculty attendance and was abandoned in 2000.
The problem of afternoon faculty department meetings persisted until two years ago when the Faculty Women’s Caucus presented an extended memo to the administration with action items. One of the items was to find a place in the schedule for faculty department meetings.
“One of [the action items] was to look into somehow finding a place in the schedule so that the day did not extend into the late afternoon so that faculty could take care of their governance and administrative business at a reasonable hour,” Charry said.
The problem was first addressed by an ad-hoc committee formed after the memo, which created proposals that were deemed too dramatic by the faculty. The problem was then given to the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), whose purpose is to deal with changes to academic regulations. The EPC consists of six faculty members, two Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) representatives, and one graduate student representative. It is currently chaired by Eric Charry.
The decision came after over 20 years of discussion among the faculty about the fact that the schedule does not take into consideration those with caregiving responsibilities. In a survey sent out to faculty members last November, out of the 180 faculty members who responded, 60 of those reported that they had caregiving conflicts in the afternoon.
The current schedule, according to Charry, effects tenure-tracked faculty most of all.
“[This schedule] hits tenure-tracked faculty in particular: They’re usually younger and have younger kids, and they’re in an extremely vulnerable position,” Charry said. “[Doing what is asked of you] can easily cut into home time or family time…. In a sense, it’s an unfair burden.”
Charry also mentioned that the Women’s Faculty Caucus pointed out that women on the tenure track are hit even harder, as they are typically more involved in caregiving responsibilities. College of Social Studies Tutor and Associate Professor of Government and of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Sarah Wiliarty, who is also a member of the Women’s Faculty Caucus, explained how the growing demographic of young faculty members with children has increased the necessity of a new common time.
“The number of young parents on the faculty is much greater now than it was in the mid-’90s,” Wiliarty said. “The people who are having trouble with the 4 to 6 p.m. meetings times are faculty parents who are trying to pick their kids up from daycare or after school…and those people are having to walk out in the middle of meetings, and that’s hard for people who don’t have tenure. Being young, you’re more likely to have little kids and you’re more likely not to have tenure, so it’s hitting that segment of the population harder.”
University President Michael Roth said that he would be willing to try the program to see how it is received.
“Many people have to work past 4:30 in professional situations,” Roth said. “And many people who don’t have kids don’t come to meetings anyway. It’s just hard to know, but it’s worth a try.”
The decision, according to Charry, seemed like the only compromise that was reasonable and available for the situation.
“The con of starting 10 minutes earlier is that faculty may not be willing to start 10 minutes earlier and students may not do it,” Charry said. “We had no other option…. So we thought that 10 minutes should not make that difference at either end but it makes a huge difference in clearing out a new time slot.”
With the new program, there will be 70 minutes of common time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and 100 minutes of common time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. University faculty meetings will now be moved to Tuesdays. Students can also use this time for their own activities.
“It just opens up new possibilities [for students] to rethink what a noon hour can do,” Charry said. “Again, it frees up that 4 to 10 spot for bonafide extracurricular activities, which could be club sports, intramural, varsity.”
Wiliarty also mentioned that she is looking forward to intellectual events and student activities that can now take place in the middle of the day.
“Trinity College actually has a longer time in the middle of the day that they use for a lot of really cool activities, so that’s another thing that we’re hoping for, that that time is available for everyone,” she said. “Student groups can use that time, we can have intellectual events in the middle of the day that are more substantive because they have more time to take place, so I’m excited about that possibility, too.”
The two skeptical constituencies to this common time, according to Charry, were the athletics department and the professors who had signed up for 8:30 a.m. or 9:00 a.m class slots.
“You’d think an extra 10 minutes wouldn’t make that much of a difference, but we were really sympathetic to them because coaches are getting home [late], they’re often staying after to talk to students or just to clean up,” Charry said. “They’re not getting home until maybe 8, or 8:30, and for those coaches who have middle school age or younger kids, that’s a really tough time because they miss dinner time, and they could even miss bedtime for really young kids.”
Roth also echoed that the timing might not be ideal for athletes.
“I think the athletes have to start [practices] a little later, and that’s not ideal,” Roth said. “There is no perfect time for everyone, so maybe this will turn out to be a better time for more people, and if that’s true, that’s great.”
Chair and Professor of the Classical Studies Department and Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, who has been with the University for 43 years, also mentioned that the change could pose a challenge for students with on-campus employment and how it would be necessary for employers to make accommodations for them.
“I was talking to some of my students about [the new common time], and one of the concerns that was raised…was, what about people who have jobs?” Szegedy-Maszak said. “If [students] have on-campus jobs, then the on-campus employers are going to have to adjust, and it is not that big a deal…. In terms of a basic cost-benefit analysis, I think that the cost is very low for a benefit that could be substantial.”
Charry noted that professors who have early morning classes might see a cut in student attendance, but that there is no other choice.
“At a place with this size faculty, with several hundred people and then all the other folks who are impacted by scheduling, there’s no perfect time for everybody,” Roth said.
The majority of faculty members hope that the new common time will become a permanent University fixture.