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College to try four-day week

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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CANTON — Joining a handful of colleges nationwide, SUNY Canton will switch to a four-day academic week starting next semester.


In an effort to slash operating costs and increase environmental sustainability, the college will offer courses primarily from Monday to Thursday. On Fridays, the college will shut down — and stop heating — many of its academic buildings, while staff and students save money, time and carbon emissions by not having to drive back and forth from campus.


The measure could save SUNY Canton as much as $250,000 a semester, the equivalent of five full-time faculty positions, college President Joseph L. Kennedy said.


"You've got to have an open mind," he said. "We just cannot stop doing new things, and we're not about to."


SUNY Canton will be the first college in the north country, and in the entire SUNY system, to try out the four-day academic week. Mr. Kennedy said there are only about 20 other colleges in the country that run on the schedule.


"I've said we're probably going to pay the 'dumb tax' on this, in that there will be things that we haven't guessed that won't work well, but we're committed to giving this a fair try," Mr. Kennedy said.


Staff and faculty members will adjust their schedules to work 40 hours in four days instead of five under the new system. How that works will vary depending on each position, Mr. Kennedy said, but the college anticipates that the school day will last about an hour and a half longer Monday through Thursday.


A recent Inside Higher Education article said Brevard (Fla.) Community College saved nearly $474,000 in energy costs in the first year it switched to a four-day academic schedule, while that college's employees reported 50 percent fewer sick hours. Staff turnover was reduced by 44 percent.


At Missouri State University, West Plains, Mo., enrollment increased 11 percent in one semester when the college tried the four-day schedule, and students took on more credit hours.


The four-day academic week is just one aspect of SUNY Canton's cost-cutting plan, which Mr. Kennedy unveiled in light of SUNY's budget cuts earlier this year.


"Colleges, like a lot of organizations, are pretty wed to the way they've always done things," he said. "But in the next few years, all state colleges will have fewer employees, not just because of layoffs, but because they won't rehire for positions after people retired. We just simply cannot continue doing things the way they've always been done."


The college has been gravitating toward the schedule change for the past several years, especially as gas prices topped $4 per gallon. Less than 15 percent of courses were offered on Fridays last semester, while the popularity of SUNY Canton OnLine classes also has led students and professors to embrace more flexible schedules.


"Students and faculty are designing their respective schedules and courses to incorporate even more online components," Molly A. Mott, dean of academic services and retention, said in a statement. "That has given students increased flexibility in their schedules and allowed them to better balance their other obligations like work, family and activities."


Some aspects of college operation will remain largely unaffected by the change. SUNY Canton's fitness center, library, dining operations and admissions and business offices all will remain open on Fridays. The college also has offered to accommodate any faculty or staff member who is unable to adopt the new schedule.


SUNY Canton's maintenance and facilities staff experimented with the four-day work week this summer, with "splendid" results, Mr. Kennedy said.


The campus community has, for the most part, adjusted pretty well to the cost-cutting measures, Mr. Kennedy said.


"We're not cutting as much grass. We're not moving as much snow. We're trying to reduce the amount of fuel we use to do these things," he said. "People have adapted surprisingly well to the fact that our buildings are substantially cooler now. There are more people pulling on sweaters."


Mr. Kennedy has vowed not to lay off any of SUNY Canton's 500 employees, but he is trying to reduce the number of workers by 30, simply by not replacing people when they retire or leave in the next two years. The college also will draw on some of its reserve funds to keep growing in the next few years.


"We're all in this together. The absolute bottom line is New York is in real trouble financially. We're all going to have to be more efficient in everything we do," Mr. Ken-nedy said.

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