Reassessing University Classroom Inventory and Usage

Dear Colleagues:

I hope that your summer was both productive and enjoyable and that the beginning of a new academic year has been a good one for you and your students.

With the opening of the fall term also comes the regular challenge of finding suitable and pedagogically sound instructional space for all of the courses that meet on the Morningside campus. Overall, we had a good experience this summer assigning our courses into appropriate classrooms, but the effort was not without its usual difficulties. Our University Registrar, Barry Kane, has been addressing this task, but the challenges are nonetheless daunting. While our regular classroom inventory represents a broad spectrum of sizes and types of instructional space, it also constitutes a finite resource that is constrained at our most popular teaching times when large numbers of courses are scheduled.

Longer-term, and with the advice of faculty who are intimately aware of the challenges and opportunities to ameliorate these constraints, I am committed to helping our Registrar find ways to tackle our peak scheduling issues. In the immediate term, I have asked him to evaluate the buildings and classrooms that have traditionally been associated with particular schools, departments, and programs, and balance this with the pressure of course enrollments that call into question certain historical classroom assignment practices. I asked Barry to formulate recommendations that might alleviate some of our most persistent challenges. The strategies below constitute those that I believe are worth pursuing:

  • Adjust our classroom scheduling software to focus far more on enrollment as a priority course attribute than on historic associations between schools, departments, and buildings, or individual instructors and classrooms. The result of this adjustment may mean greater availability of appropriate classrooms at any given hour, but also the placement of courses into classrooms that may be new to faculty accustomed to teaching in specific spaces.
  • Adjust course caps to align with a course’s actual enrollment over time rather than on the unusually high (and not sustained) levels of enrollment during the opening weeks of a semester or on enrollment that a department may predict for a particular semester. The establishment of course caps informed by longitudinal enrollment data can substantially improve the matching of courses to appropriate classrooms, particularly at peak teaching time blocks.
  • Work with University Facilities to equip more of our classrooms with specific equipment and furnishings, to allow a wider range of uses by faculty teaching in a variety of disciplines.

We will move ahead with these recommendations as we begin planning and scheduling spring 2017 courses. While you can expect to see classroom assignments that may depart from those that have come to be associated with particular schools and departments, we also believe that more courses will be linked with pedagogically sound instructional space than in previous years. In addition, while course caps may depart from past patterns, basing caps on historic course enrollments over time will ultimately result in more appropriate classroom placements.

These actions are part of an ongoing effort to meet our obligations to our students to enhance course availability and selection, and to provide students with classroom environments that facilitate, rather than detract from, our primary mission of teaching and learning. Toward this end, I will also convene a faculty committee to provide specific advice and counsel about how we can continue to improve the way we schedule and utilize our classroom inventory over time. This committee will draw on, and build upon, the significant work and recommendations of the previous Classroom Committees that met and produced reports in both 2011 and 2014 under the superb leadership of Professor Jean Howard. These two reports, available here, identify a number of strategic recommendations involving use of our teaching spaces.

I look forward to working with all of you to continue addressing, and meeting, our classroom challenges in the months ahead.


John H. Coatsworth