Course Scheduling at Booth
By Lisa Messaglia, Executive Director of Faculty Services, and Deputy Deans Rob Gertner and Stacey Kole | november, 2012, Issue 2
Have you ever wondered how the scheduling of courses is done? Or what determines who teaches what sections, where, and when? The following is a discussion of course scheduling intended to pull back the curtain on this important issue.
Course scheduling at Booth is complex. Unlike many of our peer schools that offer full-time and executive MBA only, we offer our master of business administration in multiple formats –full-time, evening, weekend and three executive MBA programs in Chicago, London, and Singapore. The size and complexity of our MBA offerings (as well as our doctoral programs) allow us to support a large, diverse faculty and results in a greater variety in course offerings for our students. From a logistical perspective, however, our complexity creates challenges as we strive to build a schedule that preserves teaching quality, rigor, balance, and choice across our programs.
Booth schedules courses for an academic year (rather than quarterly like much of the University of Chicago) to allow students to plan in advance. Faculty contracts span the academic year, with most contracts beginning in summer quarter and ending in spring quarter of the following year. The norm among top tier academic institutions is that faculty have until May 1st to indicate whether they will stay to teach in the next year; this is also the deadline for new faculty to accept or decline offers. As a result, the supply side of the scheduling equation for the next academic year cannot be finalized until after May 1st.
During winter quarter, a proposed schedule is compiled based on enrollment projections, registration and bidding data, course evaluation results, and feedback from staff and students. This information informs us of the demand side of the equation. The ideal schedule lays courses into quarters and programs, considering balance across course areas, appropriate sequencing of courses, and staging by program; it focuses primarily on the courses to be delivered rather than the faculty teaching those courses. We strive to rotate all faculty and courses through the programs at least every three years so students can access most courses during their tenure at Booth.
To assist with the assignment of courses to programs and schedules, each academic area has a tenured faculty member who serves as its course scheduler. In this role, course schedulers review the proposed schedule and allocate faculty to sections based on their preferences and constraints. If there are variances between these faculty assignments and the proposed schedule, the course scheduler and the executive director of faculty services review the variances and determine if we can alter the proposed schedule and, if necessary, propose corresponding changes to the proposed schedule. This is an iterative process designed to maintain a rich schedule for students.
Faculty availability is a key constraint in the course scheduling equation. Full-time, tenure-track faculty are typically required to teach three sections per year. Clinical faculty have varying teaching obligations. If there are holes in the schedule, the course schedulers recruit visiting and adjunct faculty to teach in the following academic year.
During this time frame, area course schedulers also consider new courses. Many new courses include deeper study of topics addressed in other courses but some courses focus on emerging topics in business. Course schedulers review the course content as well as evaluate instructors for the course. The deputy deans for faculty give the final approval of new courses. The approval process is not bureaucratic as we want to lower barriers to innovate. Conversely, we attempt to do all that we can to ensure that new courses succeed.
After faculty assignments are made, we again review the course schedule for balance, and consider faculty balance across programs and across quarters. The program staff again provides feedback to the planning process on ways to improve the schedule, resulting in more changes to the schedule. Before the preliminary schedule is finalized, the deputy deans for faculty complete a final review for approval.
In the last step, faculty choose teaching times for the following year. After teaching times are assigned, a schedule is released to students. Refinements continue to be made to the schedule after the schedule is released but once the schedule has been announced, it is difficult to dramatically change that schedule as faculty and students are planning based on this schedule.
NOTE TO FULL-TIME STUDENTS: As a reminder, there are multiple mechanisms for offering suggestions and feedback regarding the course schedule including conversations with advisors in Academic Services, Dean of Students Ann Harvilla or Deputy Dean Kole (who are easy to find at Coffee Hours on Wednesday afternoons,) or discussions with your student reps from the GBC (Daniel Rogers and Catey Mark, both members of the Class of 2013.)