Unclear on the Concept

From my College’s academic administrators, in reference to course schedule planning for the next term:

There is a premium placed on courses offered between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. This makes finding suitable room accommodations difficult. Please try to widen your offerings.

Actually, there is not a premium placed on courses offered between 10 and 2, and that’s why finding suitable room accommodations is so difficult.

What if we had a faculty bidding system? Give every professor $X and let them bid for the classroom space/time they want. Winning bids get paid to the college, and whatever a faculty member retains when the bidding is done is theirs to keep. If the amount given to the professors is calibrated properly, the system costs the college very little.

But how would the College prevent collusion and non-compete deals? Monitoring faculty who talk to each other on a daily basis would be prohibitively expensive. Making bids anonymous wouldn’t help because the winners are necessarily revealed. Or are faculty too irrational and/or curmudgeonly to effectively exploit such a system? Obviously some disciplines would be more adept at figuring out ways to exploit the system than others.


About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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6 Responses to Unclear on the Concept

  1. Scott Hanley says:

    Is there a mechanism here that accommodates the students’ preferences? Sounds like the instructors with the most flexible personal schedules would have an incentive to inconvenience their students, which surely is not the goal.

  2. James Hanley says:

    Actually, the current compression of preferred times is in part due to students’ preferences. So many of our students are athletes, with practices occurring before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m, that compressing things into the 10 – 2 time-slot is the best way to ensure a full class, even with all the competition from other classes. And the evening is when student organizations meet, and our students are involved in a ridiculous array of student orgs. And of course any class that meets on Friday afternoons won’t meet student expectations.

    3:00 – 4:40 works well for students, but fewer classes are offered at that time, due to prof’s preferences. For many students (and faculty, probably), mid-afternoon is nappy time, and paying attention is difficult.

  3. AMW says:

    But how would the College prevent collusion and non-compete deals? Monitoring faculty who talk to each other on a daily basis would be prohibitively expensive. Making bids anonymous wouldn’t help because the winners are necessarily revealed.

    If you’re worried about collusion then don’t use an auction system; use posted offer markets instead. The administration doles out the cash and sets prices, with higher prices in the peak load time slots.

  4. James Hanley says:

    The administration sets prices? Didn’t Hayek demonstrate why that wouldn’t work?

  5. AMW says:

    If massive multi-nationals can set their prices a college administration should be able to. Plenty of planning (even central planning) goes on in a Hayekian emergent order. It’s just that the planning is at a much more local level than most progressives are comfortable with, and the planners have to face the consequences of their decisions.

  6. James Hanley says:

    But of course the question is, is my college administration a local enough level, or since they are the top level of our organization are they functionally global rather than local? I suppose ultimately they could do it, but I would anticipate several semesters of problems as they try to find market-clearing prices. (And unfortunately no-one in our administration has studied economics, so they’re likely to bungle it.)

    The real problem, though, may be that classroom space is not homogeneous enough. The science labs, for example, don’t compete. Only organic chemistry meets in the organic lab, etc. Art and music are similar, and communications has a few specialized rooms, too. So some faculty–primarily those in just two buildings, comprising about 8 to departments–will be competing, while some will be relatively untouched by it all. So a) it may not solve all crowding problems, b) it might not solve all the problems for students, because if the sciences all scheduled at the same time they might be locked into them and out of other needed classes (or vice versa); and c) it would create political problems because of course those of us most affected would be angry and jealous about those unaffected (getting a PhD does nothing to diminish one’s humanity, no matter what the students think).

    Still, it is a possibility. I assume that taking several year’s data on classroom use should tell us which rooms have highest demand, which lowest, and some kind of function could be derived that would allows to think systematically about prices.

    I really am interested in a solution to this. I too rarely get the classroom I want (and we have a few godawful dungeon-like rooms in the basement of my building), and the classroom I have used most often is now being outgrown by my classes. But mostly I’m tired of seeing the administration try the pointless beg endlessly approach.

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