What are the best ways to balance the needs of both a department and individual faculty members when scheduling courses? Like many relatively large English departments, the sheer number of our offerings means that, at least in the abstract, there is considerable flexibility in scheduling individual sections of courses in terms of both days and times. To the extent I can, I’d like to accommodate requests from faculty members for particular time slots, but what seems entirely reasonable on an individual basis often becomes problematic in the aggregate. Some of the requests are arguably pedagogically-related, as in the faculty members who insist that X or Y course can only be taught on TuTh (for example because more class time is needed), which means they should be prioritized for these schedules. Some of these requests also stem from personal concerns such as child care, elder care, or commuting distance that, while entirely understandable, put me in situations of adjudicating matters beyond my purview and can put other faculty members who don’t have these concerns (and/or are less vocal about their own) at a presumptive disadvantage in terms of their own requests. I also know that for at least some faculty teaching schedules determine their whole availability, with a reluctance to schedule such things as committee meetings on days when they’re not teaching. If you have any suggestions on managing that problem, I’d welcome them as well.—Professor Scheduler
Dear Professor Scheduler,
Scheduling can be one of the most fraught elements of the chair’s role. Every full-time faculty member wants specific time slots and rooms, and it’s virtually impossible to keep everyone happy at once. And, as you point out, there are real constraints of faculty time, especially family responsibilities. At the same time, it’s not fair to give faculty who don’t have children or need to look after relatives the worst time slots.
What you need here is the spirit of compromise. To my mind, compromise is working when no one gets exactly what they want, no one feels screwed over, and everyone respects the process. I’d be clear to the faculty that everyone has to take one for the team every now and then, to make class scheduling equitable for everyone. Once you’ve scheduled those folks who actually like teaching at 8am or 8pm, you should approach faculty members individually and ask them to be flexible in their schedule just for that semester. I’d couch it in terms of a group effort — everyone’s going to be asked to do this, and taking an unattractive time slot this term guarantees the slot they want the following semester and beyond. You can exempt faculty as you see fit (for example, single parents might really be unable to move their schedule around), but on the whole I’d recommend you present this as a team effort to which everyone needs to contribute.
Of course, push come to shove, scheduling is your decision. But it’s worth fostering a culture of mutual care, in which faculty members are willing to experience short-term discomfort in exchange for the smooth running of the department and their own long-term contentment.