Panel releases report on mandatory summer, new course plan

GW will increase enrollment by 1,000 students, boost revenue by at least $11 million and feature a mandatory summer session for rising juniors, if the University adopts one of the plans outlined in a report released last month.

Considering adding a 10-week summer term and a four-credit, four-course per semester structure comes during a severe University budget crunch, although the report outlines academic, faculty and student life benefits and disadvantages to switching to either system.

The report, put together by a 17-member committee of administrators, faculty and two students, extensively details the pros and cons of implementing the mandatory summer and new course structure together or individually. Administrators have said the University could implement the new system as early as summer 2005.

The 24-page report, which includes an almost 100-page appendix, features tables and charts in addition to findings by the committee. The taskforce met for five months starting in late February. A link to the report is available on the GW homepage, www.gwu.edu.

“I think a lot of academic reports are opinions … (but this one) simply lays out the data and provides a model to explore the data on your own,” said Gerald Kauvar, special assistant to the University president and a member of the committee. The committee separated into sub-groups to research the effects of a new course structure and calendar on finances, faculty, students and academics.

“Our whole job was to get away from the bumper sticker approach and show the public the complexities of the issue,” said Charles Karelis, chair of the committee.

The committee, dubbed the Study Group on an Alternative Academic Calendar, assessed the different effects of implementing combinations of a four-by-four credit system and a mandatory summer session.

The first option would be to require rising juniors to enroll in a summer session and maintain the three-credit, five-course per semester structure. The second would be to require a mandatory summer for rising juniors and move to a four-by-four credit system.

Juniors would be required to take a semester off following the summer session, if either of two of the plans are enacted. The report said University officials could look into helping students plan their semester away from GW.

The first two possibilities would enable the University to up enrollment by more than 1,000 students and increase income by at least $11 million. Most combinations would decrease the number of students in each class section by 10 percent.

Kauvar said the revenue would help the University hire professors and build new facilities, among other possibilities. For example, he said the University could hire 10 new faculty members for every million dollars.

The University’s third option would be to move to a four-by-four system without implementing a summer session. This option would cut class size by 10 percent but would not earn GW extra income.

The report listed several benefits for students if GW goes to a mandatory summer including more attractive internship opportunities during the semester off and availability of campus leadership roles to younger students. But the report also concluded that adding a summer term would only remain attractive to prospective students if the program was “something superior.” Dartmouth College also features a mandatory summer session.

Faculty will face the task of revising their courses to fit in a condensed semester while creating an attractive program, which the report said could be a benefit or a negative impact of a summer term.

“I think lots of people revise their courses all the time,” Kauvar said. “I don’t think it’s a burden of any kind.”

The report also said the summer option would give faculty more choices about when to teach or conduct research. But a professor would not get his preferred teaching schedule if a course needed to be taught during the summer. The report also said upper-level course requirements would have to be offered every semester, because students would have the option of taking off any one of their last four semesters. The problem is particularly a challenge for the School of Engineering and Applied Science, which has strict course requirements for juniors and seniors.

If the University implements a four-by-four system without adding the summer term, students would take eight fewer courses during their time at GW. The change could prevent a student from double majoring, minoring or exploring new classes, a concern expressed by faculty members. The report said the problem could be overcome if the departments lower the number of courses needed for a degree.

The report said a four-by-four system would also decrease time spent in the classroom because the University would not be lengthening classes despite the addition of a credit. The extra time could give professors more time to prepare lectures, since faculty might teach fewer, smaller courses. The change could benefit students because professors would have more time to grade papers, respond to students’ comments and offer more individual attention to students. But under the four-by-four, faculty would be required to revise every course.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg first publicly proposed an alternative calendar in a November address to faculty, stressing the economic advantages of being able to more efficiently use facilities throughout the year. He then commissioned the group to explore an alternative calendar.

The administration has been leaning towards implementing the changes to the calendar system as a way to increase GW’s revenue, at a time when the University faces a tight budget crunch. The mandatory summer plan would also help the University meet a city order that forces GW to house 70 percent of its undergraduates within campus boundaries. The plan could reduce the number of students living on campus during a given semester.

“There are two other things I would like to see put into place, which I believe, will help us prosper and enable us to enrich the education we offer at GW. The first is to get more efficient … in how we use our facilities,” Trachtenberg said in a June address to the Board of Trustees “I have talked about escaping from the agrarian calendar that gives the summer off for harvesting and actually using the campus for instruction 12 months of the year – minus a little time for vacations.”

Kauvar said about 55 people have already responded through e-mail to the committee’s report, but most of the feedback has been from people who “didn’t read the report carefully.” He said the report will receive more attention in the fall, when students and faculty return to campus.

Kauvar said the University will be publishing a special issue of By George!, the University Relations publication, at the end of the summer with a copy of the report, and sent out an email to all students with a link to the report’s Web site.

Student committee member Amanda Mintzer said she feels most students will not read the report because of its length. But she added that she does not think the report could not have been shortened.

“If they are interested, they know it’s there to read,” she said.

Kauvar said Trachtenberg wants substantial feedback from students, professors, departments and any other members of the GW community before making decisions. He said the University will be taking feedback until November 1.

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