By Matthew Grattan (BSE ’19)
According to a new directive from Dean Stock, the weekly contact hours of courses in the School of Engineering must match the number of credits granted, effective starting fall 2018. The measure primarily affects required math, chemistry, and physics courses, many of which meet for more hours per week than credits granted. For example, Ma 113 (Calculus II) meets five hours per week, despite being a four-credit course.
The most immediate effect is the loss of lecture time, which could negatively impact the quality of the core education in the engineering school. However, the change allows for more out-of-class contact in the form of office hours and tutoring taught by upper-level students.
In addition to reducing contact hours for classes like calculus, general chemistry, and physics, the directive could fundamentally change the format of physics instruction from one large lecture taught by a single professor to several smaller sections.
For first- and second-year students, the directive could reduce time spent in class by several hours per week. Considering that the first two years in the engineering school are arguably the most demanding, extra time in the week allows students to engage in other activities or to study independently.
Fewer hours of class would ease scheduling in 41 Cooper Square, where classroom space is at a premium. Empty classrooms also function as study spaces for students, and would thus be available throughout the day.
The directive ensures that course credit in the engineering school more closely follows the definition stipulated by New York state regulations on higher and professional education (8 CRR-NY 50.1). A “credit” or “semester hour” is earned upon completing a course which requires at least “15 hours (of 50 minutes each) of instruction and at least 30 hours of supplementary assignments.”
Decreasing lecture time would effectively cut expenses in the engineering school, as professors are compensated based on contact hours and not course credits. Additionally, students and adjuncts who work as tutors or recitation instructors are paid much less than full-time professors.
Reducing expenses in the engineering school is a part of larger school-wide budget cuts that have been taking place since President Sparks took office in 2017.
The January 2017 Free Education Committee Progress Report identified $9.1 million in expenses that could be reduced over two years without “compromising the high quality of Cooper’s academic programs.” The Board of Trustees directed the Sparks administration to implement the cuts, and in turn, the deans of the three schools were asked to reduce operating costs. ◊