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The Importance of Accurate Data

I have been spending the last couple of weeks assigning faculty to courses and helping staff think about scheduling issues. I wish I could say that I have been using operations research techniques to do this sort of work. After all, most of my work has been in some form of timetabling optimization. But that has not been the case: for the most part I have simply done the work manually. Partially this is because I inherited a schedule that was 90% done, so I was really in a “rework” phase. But the main reason is that I am new at this job, so I don’t really understand the constraints (though I think I have a pretty good idea of the objective and variables). Gene Woolsey of the Colorado School of Mines had the philosophy that his students had to go out and do a job before they could do any modeling or optimization. So students worked production lines or helped drivers deliver packages first. Only after spending a few weeks on the job, could they think about how operations research could improve things. If I was Gene’s student, I would definitely pick an application in sports or entertainment rather than, say, high-rise steelwork.  For now, I am emulating that approach by first handling the courses manually then thinking about optimization.

Doing the course assignment and scheduling has been eyeopening, and a little worrisome. Just as I worry at the beginning of the season for every sports league I schedule (“Why are there three teams in Cleveland this weekend?”), I worried over the beginning of the fall term as the first of my assignments rolled out. Would all the faculty show up? Would exactly one faculty member show up for each course? Oh, except for our three co-taught courses. And …. etc. etc.

It turns out there is one issue I hadn’t thought of, though fortunately it didn’t affect me. From the University of Pennsylvania (AP coverage based on the Under the Button blog entry):

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — University of Pennsylvania students who were puzzled by a no-show professor later found out why he missed the first day of class: He died months ago.

The students were waiting for Henry Teune (TOO’-nee) to teach a political science class at the Ivy League school in Philadelphia on Sept. 13.

University officials say that about an hour after the class’s start time, an administrator notified students by email that Teune had died. The email apologized for not having canceled the class.

I hadn’t thought to check on the life status of the faculty.  I guess I will add “Read obituaries” to my to-do list.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Paul Rubin | September 21, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Schedule a meeting prior to the start of the term to discuss the division of the pool of raise money. Assume that any no-shows have moved on to the Big University in the Sky. That’s probably more reliable than checking obits.

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