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Penn will begin to implement a new block schedule format in the fall.

Credit: Chase Sutton

An organization of professors authored a list of recommendations to the University for how to regulate course ending times under the new block schedule format set to begin in fall 2021.

Penn's chapter of the American Association of University Professors urged the administration to refrain from encouraging professors to teach through the 10-minute passing time at the end of class meetings, explicitly shorten class times to honor the 10-minute passing time, and require faculty members who intend to teach through the 10 extra minutes to note this in their official course descriptions. These recommendations were published in a Daily Pennsylvanian guest column on April 20.

Associate Vice Provost for Education and Academic Planning Gary Purpura did not respond to a request for comment in response to the recommendations.

Under the new block schedule, class start times will be standardized, and back-to-back classes will be eliminated, with at least 15 minutes ensured between each class. Currently, it is University policy that classes end 10 minutes before the scheduled ending time to allow travel time for students taking back-to-back classes.

Purpura told the DP on April 7 that, although the 10-minute passing time will be rendered unnecessary under the new schedule format, professors are not required to teach for this extra 10 minutes, but may do so if they wish.

“The idea of the new block schedule is really about the start times of courses, and it’s not really about the end times,” Purpura previously told the DP. “Faculty who were teaching three times a week in a 60-minute time block — if they were doing 50 minutes, 55 minutes, 45 minutes, we never would police that before, and we’re not going to police that now.”

But AAUP-Penn leaders feel that this guidance is inadequate, adding that the lack of concrete guidance will confuse professors and students and may harm non-tenured faculty.

“The administration’s response, however, still does not address the full effects of the additional 10 minutes of class time built into the new schedule,” they wrote in the guest column.

Faculty members previously reported unclear communication from the administration about whether they would be required to teach for extra time, and if so, whether they would be compensated. More than 150 faculty members signed a petition objecting to the schedule change on the grounds that faculty members were not properly consulted, an increase in teaching time would increase the amount of work required of faculty without compensation, and professors who have the largest course loads would be disproportionately impacted.

“It’s exactly the same thing they’ve been saying all along, which is, ‘We’re not going to say anything about this,’ and so from our perspective, it appears to be just kind of a studied ambiguity about this issue,” Russian and East European Studies professor and Department Chair and AAUP-Penn member Mitchell Orenstein said, speculating that accreditation concerns may be behind this choice.

AAUP-Penn leaders said they are particularly concerned about how the schedule change will impact non-tenured faculty members, whom they said may feel pressured to teach through the extra 10 minutes out of fear of appearing that they are performing at sub-par levels.

Non-tenured instructors, Orenstein said, have little or no voice in University governance or control over their teaching. He said that many non-standing lecturers are hired by specific programs to teach a class and are given no say in the logistics of their instruction. 

"I just felt, reading the response of the associate vice provost, who I’m sure is a very well-meaning person, that he wasn’t thinking at all about the condition of the weaker members of the faculty who don’t live in this kind of world where they have this freedom to do whatever they want,” Orenstein said. 

AAUP-Penn leaders also wrote in the guest column that “students will face considerable uncertainty as to what time each of their classes will end, as it will vary from course to course and be impossible to interpret based on the newly published class schedule.”

Orenstein said that it is important that students know when they will be released from class, given how busy Penn students often are.

AAUP-Penn President Suvir Kaul added that student confusion about course end times could hurt professors, especially those whose students did not attend Penn prior to the implementation of the block schedule. He said he fears that students will see a variation in instruction time among their different classes and may criticize professors who teach for a shorter amount of time in their course evaluations. 

The organization is also calling for its recommendations to be placed into the Faculty Handbook, just as the previous end-time policy was, so that the new measures may be observed and respected.

“I understand the central administration’s position, but things can be done better, and I think these proposals will do that,” Orenstein said. 

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.