Extending class times sparks semester debate

Longer class times are in store for Mercyhurst College students when the winter term begins.

The college administration learned its class contact hours were out of compliance with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) in early July. To comply with these standards, the college’s class contact hours will change for winter and spring terms of the 2011-12 academic year.

Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes will be 10 minutes longer each day. Tuesday and Thursday classes will be 15 minutes longer.

Although 15 minutes might not seem that much longer, Political Science Department Chair Michael Federici, Ph.D., pointed out that a Tuesday/Thursday class will be two hours and 10 minutes long, which is “absurdly long for an undergraduate class,” he said.

Federici noted that even most graduate classes are not that long.

Mercyhurst has been out of compliance with the required 42 hours per class for at least three years, but prior to applying for university status, the PDE did not notify the college of this, Vice President for Academic Affairs Phil Belfiore, Ph.D., said.

Even if the college was not applying for university status, the number of contact hours would change.
“Once aware we are out of compliance, we would want to change,” Belfiore said.

To be in compliance with hours, classes should meet for the required time, even though “faculty will be more tempted to let their classes out early,” Federici said.

Class times will not change for fall term.

“We couldn’t do it in the fall,” Belfiore said. “Syllabi were already set. Students were already registered. It wouldn’t be fair.”

The contact hour change is simply a solution for winter and spring terms of this year.

“I don’t see it as a long-term solution,” Belfiore said. “Let’s just do it this way for now and think of better solutions.”

One down side of this change, according to Belfiore, is that it makes the day longer. Classes will end at 4:10 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and at 5:10 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is a change from 3:20 and 4:10 respectively.

The later ending to the day interferes with athletics and extracurricular activities, Belfiore said.

Other possible solutions to solve the contact hour issue without extending the day include extending the school year, reducing reading days, making breaks shorter and adding course activities that are outside of class time. These required activities could include case studies, speaker series or interactive online assignments such as blogging, Belfiore said.

“I think compared to some of the other solutions, extending class time would probably be the best choice,” junior Danielle Vaccaro said.

Junior Brady Greenawalt agreed.

“I wouldn’t really mind staying in class for a few extra minutes, but cutting into our Christmas and summer breaks would certainly be annoying,” he said. “I feel like we already don’t have very many reading days as it is, so if they were reduced there would practically be no reading days left.”

The trimester system is a large factor for the college’s contact hours being short of the requirement.

“The trimester is what really gets us to this point,” Belfiore said. “If we went to semesters there would be very little issue with contact hours.”

Federici favors switching to semesters because students do not have to digest as much information at once and semesters would allow for shorter class times.

No other college or university in Pennsylvania, besides Mercyhurst, is on the trimester system, according to Federici.
“There’s probably a good reason for that,” he said.

Semesters seem like the simple solution, but students may not favor this option.

“If adding 10 minutes to my class could keep the trimester system at Mercyhurst, I will gladly go to class for a few minutes longer,” Vaccaro said.

“I think changing to semesters would take away one of the things that makes Mercyhurst academics unique and steer away students who enjoy focusing on only a few classes.”

Greenawalt was more willing to part with trimesters.

“I have always preferred Mercyhurst’s trimester system to the standard semester system, but if it would mean keeping our breaks and reading days, I wouldn’t be opposed to switching to semesters,” he said.

The college council will meet in the fall to discuss the best way to comply with the required contact hours.