ofCourse: Ed, you’re a Rutgers alum and now you’re an Assistant Dean there. What do you like about Rutgers?
Ed Rentezelas: I was born and raised in New Jersey and went to Rutgers as both an undergraduate and a law student. Between my time as a student and an alum, I’ve always been involved with the University. When the opportunity came to return to the University as an employee, I was obviously attracted to it.
ofCourse: How did you become the schedule-maker for Rutgers Law? What’s the history?
Ed: A number of our administrators wear multiple hats, and I am no exception. My current role sits between student and academic affairs, where I’m involved with academic advising, exam management, student support, disciplinary investigations, scheduling, policy formation, etc. Over the years, due to my knowledge of both areas, it became clear that I was best suited to also set up the course schedule — or as the dean at the time said to me, “It’s the price of being competent and respected.”
ofCourse: So — is it a high price to pay? How do you enjoy being responsible for the course schedule?
Ed: When the role was reassigned to me, it involved some level of anxiety. There are so many competing variables to consider when making a schedule in the law school context — student preferences, faculty preferences, making sure courses within the same legal field do not conflict, making sure bar-tested subjects do not conflict, keeping in mind what has and has not been offered in the evening for our part-time students, etc. It was similar to Tetris, but much more complex. However, the problem-solving part of it suits me for some reason.
ofCourse: Because you sit at the juncture of student and academic affairs, you likely have a front-row seat to see how that schedule affects the students. What’s been your experience? How does the schedule affect students?
Ed: Throughout my tenure at Rutgers Law, I’ve tried to make the experience for our students better. I felt strongly that the students should have a voice and I went to student bar association meetings to both listen and discuss with them the ways in which we can improve.
Let’s take the part-time students as an example. Time management is a huge part of their lives. In creating an evening schedule, I always want to make sure they are not being short-changed or forgotten — not only with the courses offered but in terms of how we assign seats for courses that have caps. For these courses, we’ve evolved to give the part-time students preferential treatment whenever lotteries are needed for the evening courses (since day students can also enroll in evening courses).
ofCourse: Interesting. You say “evolved”. In the past, were part-time students sometimes considered a lower priority?
Ed: I wouldn’t say a lower priority. However, the life of a part-time student will always be different than a full-time student. In order to create community, there is always a discussion on how best to meet the needs of our students both academically and socially / culturally. That evolution never ends since improvements can always be found — even little ones. Ideally, you would want all students to graduate and feel as though they were not simply a number during their time with us. That process starts during the admissions process and should continue even after they leave us.
ofCourse: Let’s talk Covid-19. It’s thrown many schedules into disarray. What’s been the effect of the pandemic at Rutgers Law?
Ed: Covid-19 has been difficult for everyone. The University made the decision in March to switch to online instruction, which extended into the Summer and Fall semesters (and will likely continue to some extent for the Spring semester). It’s made schedule creation both more difficult and, in one particular way, easier.
From the difficulty side, we had to think about how to structure our classes best for students, since they would be sitting in front of a computer for long stretches. Conversations had to occur with faculty regarding their teaching styles and methods. However, it was easier in one sense - we didn’t have to consider our classroom capacities in creating our course offerings.
ofCourse: So how much different is your Covid-19 schedule? Is it barely recognizable, or does it seem somewhat similar to your on-campus schedule?
Ed: Rutgers Law is unique in that the law school spans two different University campuses / buildings. Since we are fully online, the current course schedule (in Camden, where I am based) had to be combined with the schedule in Newark (the other campus). In doing so, we had to, in some respects, double-check everything to make sure students had the opportunity to take courses originating in either location without conflicts. This process will likely continue for the Spring semester.
ofCourse: Switching gears, do you have any amusing scheduling anecdotes you can share with us?
Ed: When I was first given the role of scheduling our courses, I wanted to explain how the process would work for the upcoming academic year. I explained to our faculty that not everyone can be assigned the Tuesday/Thursday 2:30pm time slot (which 30 of our faculty requested during my first go-around).
During this discussion, one faculty member asked whether, if they taught two classes in a semester, the two classes would be set for the same days of the week. I had to explain that this request could not be guaranteed and that “while I will try to make everyone happy, that may be impossible. If it does wind up being impossible, then the goal is to make everyone equally unhappy.” A large percentage of the faculty saw it as a humorous reply, but a few faculty members did not.
ofCourse: Hahaha! I like it. To conclude — what’s a piece of advice you have for someone just starting as the schedule-maker for their school?
Ed: I think there are always two things to keep in mind. First is patience. There will always be curveballs regarding schedule creation and you have to be ready for them. Some issues that come up in scheduling create domino effects which can be tricky.
The second is diplomacy. If you’re forced to make an unusual scheduling decision to help a faculty member, it makes sense to explain how this creates difficulty and that they should return the favor in a future semester. The same is true when getting student response to our published draft schedule (prior to when it all becomes finalized).
ofCourse: Thanks for sharing your insights, Ed!
Ed: Thank you — this was fun.