Administrators said they are considering successes and failures of other universities that launched mandatory summer sessions before they make a decision on a potential calendar change for GW.
The University’s alternative academic calendar committee released a report in June stating the pros and cons of a mandatory 10-week summer session for rising juniors. The report used summer programs at Colgate University and Dartmouth College as a guide to the benefits a summer term could bring to GW.
A second committee will begin work in mid-November to decide how an alternative calendar would be implemented at GW. The University is accepting feedback on a mandatory summer session and four-course, four-credit system until Nov. 1.
Dartmouth’s summer program, known as the sophomore summer, was instated in the early 1970s and is similar to the program GW is considering. The session, mandatory for all students between their sophomore and junior years, lasts for 10 weeks, during which rising juniors usually take three classes. Students must then take a subsequent term off from school. Dartmouth officials said the program was originally administered to integrate women into the college when it became co-ed, but Dartmouth never ended the program because of its popularity.
“The basic idea is the same,” said Charles Karelis, chair of the committee to explore changes to GW’s academic calendar. “Every student at Dartmouth currently has a mandatory summer and then they have to take off another session. It’s like displacing your summer vacation.”
But Dartmouth operates on a quarter calendar, by which students attend four 10-week terms, rather than GW’s two 14-week semesters. GW is not considering switching to a quarter system.
Dartmouth Assistant Dean of Faculty Jane Carroll said Dartmouth’s quarter calendar is largely what makes the sophomore summer a success.
“Having three equal semesters would be a lot harder,” she said.
GW will refrain from implementing trimesters – three equal semesters – because the committee found it does not provide enough downtime for students and faculty, among other reasons. A summer session at GW would be 10 weeks, and spring and fall semesters would remain at 14 weeks.
“Whatever we do is going to be what’s right for GW,” said Gerald Kauvar, special assistant to the president and a member of the committee. “We aren’t going to take someone else’s model and impose it on GW.”
Carroll said Dartmouth faculty members are required to teach during two of the four quarters and be in residence at the college for one. The fourth term can be used for travel, research or personal time. She said many professors schedule their research term back to back with their residence term, which allows them to research for a full 20 weeks.
“You don’t have to go begging people to teach in the summer,” she said.
Dartmouth does not offer special courses or programs during the summer. Instead, students choose from an abbreviated course catalog, which changes every summer.
“It’s a much lazier pace here in the summer … Students feel less pressured, which is silly because they’re still receiving the same amount of work,” Caroll said.
Dartmouth senior Liz Perman said she enjoyed being at Dartmouth during the summer.
“It gives you a lot of flexibility, which a lot of people really like.”
Perman said students can stay on campus during their session off, even though they are not enrolled as students. She said some of her classmates worked on campus, studied abroad, interned or went home.
Carroll said some students complain the program can prevent them from being with friends.
Perman said although the college provides activities and bus trips during the summer term, the campus is “much quieter.”
A summer term would help GW come into compliance with a city order mandating the University house 70 percent of undergraduates within campus boundaries by 2006. GW administrators have said the summer term is part of an effort to make better use of the University’s facilities, such as classrooms and dormitories, and to improve student engagement in classes.
Colgate University implemented a program similar to Dartmouth’s to solve a severe housing crunch in the early 1970s. After eight years, Colgate ended the summer term and built new residence halls.
Carl Peterson, assistant professor of Colgate’s libraries and head of special collections, said the program was unpopular.
“Students didn’t like it. They said it broke up the unity of the class,” he said. “They were finding they weren’t as happy when they came back.”
Peterson also said that students complained that the social scene was “dead” during the summer, since most of the student body was gone.
He said a summer program was proposed a year or two ago but was rejected.
Unlike GW’s proposed summer session, Colgate students were required to attend classes for two summers and take a spring or fall semester off from class.
Karelis, former president of Colgate from 1999 to 2001, said there is no “official version” of why the program failed.
“You’re dealing with memories and impressions,” Karelis said. “Many people went through that system and liked it. Some students said it was their happiest time.”
Although the University will look more closely into the possibility of a summer term later this fall, administrators declined to comment on what parts of the Colgate or Dartmouth plans they would like to see in place at GW.