Monday, February 11, 2008

Taking classes 

I am in the middle of finalizing our department schedule, and as is their wont, some faculty are fussier about when they teach than others. Last year I tried to get faculty to subscribe for classes that I had placed on a schedule, indicated which courses were oversubscribed and which were undersubscribed, and then had the faculty work through disputes. This did not work too well as younger faculty did not want to compete against senior faculty. I really should have known better. So I've gone back to bilateral haggling between myself and the faculty, which always creates a few conflicts at the end where one course has nobody speaking for it. I can make bargains across semesters but that bargain is seen as favoring someone who's asked to pick up the slack the following semester.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed writes of students at Wharton using points in an auction system to get courses. (subscriber link; H/T: Carpe Diem, which has some of the article excerpted.) It's a great example of how market structures affect the allocation of scarce resources. Should faculty maintain their own lists of students for their courses and admit people on first-come-first-served? Should we have a ranking system, as does MIT?

Should students be able to sell a seat they got? Many schools don't permit or like this practice. Steve Levitt points out that he can't sell those seats, and probably students shouldn't either. I can imagine why faculty don't like this -- if their course is one for which high prices are expressed, that could be used as evidence of teaching effectiveness (or maybe just an easy 'A'.)

But now I'm thinking, could I schedule faculty this way? Suppose I give each faculty member 500 points, and maybe an extra 50 points for each year of service on the faculty. I then place the course schedule on a webpage and offer each faculty member a chance to bid on courses. Some people prefer nights and others mornings. Some prefer to teach only on Tuesdays and Thursdays and others are fine teaching a class or two each day of the week. And let's suppose I allow faculty to bank points. Maybe this would give me better allocation?

Your comments invited.

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