Classroom space fills up quickly during midday peak

Students in Posvar Hall classroom


Want to teach a class in a specific classroom? Then you might want to plan for an early morning or late afternoon session. Want to teach sometime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.? Then don’t be surprised if you end up in some far-flung space.

Pitt Registrar Patricia Mathay and Christopher Coat, associate registrar for academic support services, know that there just aren’t enough classrooms on the Oakland campus for everyone to teach during peak times between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“We haven’t added classroom buildings, classroom space in a long time,” Mathay said. “I know it’s in the master plan, but we have to survive between now and the master plan.”

The Office of the University Registrar only controls roughly one-third of the classrooms on campus (about 103), and 30 of those are Nationality Rooms. Another third, around 169, is completely controlled by each academic department and the last third, called priority rooms, are filled by departments as they see fit, and then any extra space is turned back over to the registrar. The departments have to put in their requests for these priority classrooms by early December for the following fall term.

David DeJong, executive vice provost, said at a recent Senate Plant Utilization and Planning Committee meeting that he wants to protect the space that departments have exclusive control over, to use for classes, as well as meetings and seminars, but he wants to make sure “departments are behaving well” when it comes to the priority rooms and turning over any excess space.

Coat said for many years the Nationality Rooms were underutilized. Now the registrar’s office can schedule classes in them anytime, “And if we couldn’t, we’d really be in trouble,” Mathay said.

“We still get a lot of requests for faculty to try and move once they’re placed in there,” Coat said. “If we can, we will meet those needs. But with the increased number of class sections we’ve had, we’ve really had to use the Nationality Rooms.”

English Nationality Room

Higher enrollment in some departments and smaller class sizes has increased the demand for classroom space.

“We’ve had a slight increase in the number of freshmen for each of the last few years,” Mathay said. “If you think about it, for classes like your English comp, that almost every freshman has to take, … there’s only 19 or 20 students in those class. So even an increase in Arts and Sciences of 20 students means another class section.”

“When your class section is rejected as a faculty member for the time that you've requested, it's not that you're personally chosen to be pushed out,” Coat said at the PUP committee meeting. “Really there wasn't anything available. I think some find it hard to believe that at 11 o'clock, (there are) no spaces available.”

While students have the first three weeks of each term to drop a class, the classroom assignments rarely change even if the class size drops significantly. Mathay said it’s more common for faculty members to request larger classrooms because they have over-enrolled a class.

“They’re in a room for 30, and now they want it to be 35. And that’s a harder thing to do, especially when it’s in the peak time of the day. Sometimes we just have to say, we can’t do that,” she said. “I actually had a faculty member say, ‘What am I supposed to do when I over-enroll my class? Where am I supposed to get chairs from?’ I said you’re not supposed to do that, because we don’t have the luxury of having a number of rooms sitting empty at any point during the day, that you can just say, ‘No problem, I’ll move you down the hall to a bigger room.’ ”

And when professors do pull chairs into an already crowded room, they run the risk of violating fire codes, Coat said.

“You cannot have more than 49 people in a classroom with one egress,” Mathay said. “There’s that kind of thing that faculty don’t know, and we don’t really expect them to know that. So, they don’t think it’s any big deal to have 51 people in the room.”

Seeking an even distribution

The best advice Mathay has for departments is to equitably distribute classes over the days of the week and over the times of the day and stick to standard meeting times, then it’s much more likely the software that Coat uses is going to place the classes when and where faculty members want.

“The optimizing software is looking for the best fit. So if you have six classes that are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, at 10 o’clock, it’s going to place them in the rooms that are the best fit. It’s not going to put a class of 30 in a room for 70 if there is a class of 60 that needs that. From my perspective, it’s kind of a blind placement.

“If we use that software to place classes in departmental rooms, we might do better than what people are doing manually,” she said.

The registrar’s office started a pilot program three years ago with the Katz Graduate School of Business and the College of Business Administration in which the software was used. The schools specified a few classes that had to be in certain rooms, but after that the registrar’s office did the work.

“We were and we are very successful at increasing the seat capacity in those rooms,” Coat said. The industry standard is 66.6 percent full and they were able to utilize 90 percent of the seats in those classrooms, he said. And they’re starting to do the same in some departments in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences.

The most popular day combination for class requests is Tuesday/Thursday, followed by Monday/Wednesday/Friday. But Coat and Mathay said few people are now requesting Friday classes and instead going for just Monday/Wednesday.

“If we can have departments maximize the distribution of their (classes) across that whole spectrum of week and day, then you’ll see that there would be more rooms available,” Coat said. “But getting people to teach at eight o’clock in the morning or four in the afternoon, for example, is difficult.”

Monday is the most popular for evening classes.

The registrar encourages people to schedule classes in standard meeting times. “We will accommodate non-standard meeting times, but we will do them after everything else has been scheduled,” Coat said.

Mathay said nonstandard times also are hard for students. “If they have a class that’s not at a standard time, it could block out options for other classes that are in the standard meeting times.”

Changing class layouts

Renovations also can mean fewer seats in classrooms. Coat said in the past five years, in particular, the Classroom Management Team has been looking at ways to create more active learning classrooms. This can be seen in the three large classrooms the Registrar’s Office controls on the first floor of Posvar Hall, which have advanced technology and moveable seating.

Many rooms were already overcrowded with standard desks. When those classrooms are renovated, architects are helping to determine the appropriate amount of space is per student.

This summer on the ground floor of the Cathedral of Learning several classrooms are getting updates, and once completed will have fewer seats. In G13, the tiers are being removed and the seating improved, which will mean 40 percent less capacity. Five other small classrooms each have a seating capacity of only 16. One of those rooms will be removed and the others expanded to create a more open space and a seating capacity of 24 each. This work, along with a refresh for G24, will be completed by the fall term.

Another classroom, G8, is being totally renovated to make it more ADA compliant and make it into an active learning area, which will mean far few seats. This room won’t be completed until January.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.