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AAUP–Penn responds to Penn's new block schedule. Credit: Ana Glassman

In an April 14, 2021 Daily Pennsylvanian article, Penn administrators responded to a petition signed by more than 150 faculty members “against the university’s unilateral increase in teaching time.”  Penn’s Associate Vice Provost of Education and Academic Planning Gary Purpura told The DP that the new schedule format rolling out this fall will not make any explicit changes to class stopping times. The article states, “He said, however, that since the 10 minutes are no longer necessary for travel time, an instructor who wishes to teach for an additional 10 minutes will have the freedom to do so.” As is frequently the case, it has taken faculty pressure to get Penn administrators to explain their decisions, and the American Association of University Professors at Penn is glad to enable this. 

The administration’s response, however, still does not address the full effects of the additional ten minutes of class time built into the new schedule. AAUP–Penn remains concerned that faculty in some departments or programs will be encouraged or required to teach for an additional ten minutes per class period and that this burden will fall hardest on those who teach the most at Penn: non-standing faculty and lecturers. In addition, 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. Further, in years to come, as memory of the 50- and 80-minute class times fades, instructors will be under pressure to teach the entire stipulated class period, and could be penalized for appearing to shorten their classes.

In the absence of formal guidelines on the length of instructional periods, AAUP–Penn has established a set of best practices that we believe will safeguard the interests of all students and faculty at Penn. We recommend that the University adopt these measures into the Faculty Handbook and that departments and programs at Penn adhere to them starting in the fall.

  1. No faculty member, especially those who teach more than three contact hours per week per course OR teach more than two courses per semester at Penn, shall be encouraged or required by their department or the University to extend class times under the new schedule.
  2. Where possible, class periods should be explicitly shortened to reflect actual stopping times.  
  3. Faculty members who teach three or fewer contact hours per week and who plan to make use of the full 60- or 90-minute period should make note of this in the official course description with the Registrar, so that students are informed at time of registration.  

The American Association of University Professors, whose chapter at Penn was founded in 2020, is a national organization of faculty and academic professionals that has helped to shape United States higher education by developing standards and procedures that maintain quality in education, fair employment conditions, shared governance, and academic freedom. Penn’s AAUP chapter is concerned about a perceived lack of transparency in institutional decision-making at our university (of which this schedule change issue is only one example) and about working conditions for all those who teach at Penn. 

Penn’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors can be reached by emailing aaup.penn@gmail.com or by visiting aaup-penn.org.

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