Complaints yield proposal to stagger campus class start times

Colleen Winters

A group of faculty rode the bus between the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses, walked to the farthest points of each campus and even carried heavy books.
Their verdict: Fifteen minutes to get from a lab in the College of Biological Sciences to a lecture in Willey Hall just doesn’t cut it.
If a proposal to stagger the start times is approved, it could solve a lot of the problems, administrators said. But a 7:45 a.m. start time for the Minneapolis campus could pose new problems.
Concurrent class start times for both the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses have resulted in scheduling conflicts for students and class disruptions for faculty since they went into effect.
Laura Koch, chair of the University Senate’s Educational Policy Committee, said she has had “varied feedback” about the new proposal. The topic was supposed to be discussed at Thursday’s Twin Cities Campus Assembly meeting, but was postponed until April’s gathering.
“I thought there would be more negative feedback to the 7:45 start time,” Koch said. “But it depends on who you’re talking to.”
Kathryn Hanna, assistant dean of the College of Biological Sciences, said the faculty in her college is supportive of the proposal.
Students might be the most skeptical of the early start time. College of Liberal Arts senior Marie McKowen’s eyes widened at the mention of the early class time.
“That is so early,” said McKowen, who commutes to the campus from St. Louis Park. “I’d fall asleep.”
The proposal comes as the result of complaints from students who have to take courses on both campuses, Koch said.
“They couldn’t take two courses that were required that were back to back on different campuses,” she said. This is especially a problem for senior students who might need two specific classes on separate campuses to graduate on time, Koch said.
There are also concerns from faculty about students leaving their classes early or arriving late because of the commute time between the two campuses, Hanna said.
“There was a lot of disruption with students particularly arriving late,” said Hanna, a member of the committee that worked out the proposal.
Staggering class times between campuses is not a new idea. From 1976 to the winter quarter of 1996, staggered schedules existed in some form or another, Hanna said.
But complaints that a later start time for the St. Paul campus left faculty there with one less class period per day resulted in the concurrent scheduling, said Sam Lewis, a director in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.
The committee’s proposal to reinstate the staggered start times allows 45 minutes of passing time from Minneapolis to the St. Paul campus, and 50 minutes passing time from St. Paul to Minneapolis, according to a report prepared by Koch. There is a 15-minute passing time within each campus.
To come up with the current schedule, committee members put themselves in students’ shoes, Koch said. “We tried to see what we could do to alleviate the problems without causing more problems,” she said.
Another proposal considered by the committee allowed for 10 minutes passing time within each campus, but Koch said while it can be done, it would be hard for students with disabilities.
The current proposal allows for both campuses to have an equal number of class periods, but St. Paul’s start time is half an hour later than that of Minneapolis. Koch said the reason for having the earlier start time in Minneapolis is that many students commute into that campus.
If the proposal is accepted, the new start times will begin fall 1999 with the conversion to semesters because class schedules for next fall are already being made, Koch said.