Analyzing trimesters: Faculty wary of change

Although many faculty members said they oppose a University initiative to implement a mandatory summer session, several said they are eager to work with the administration to work out issues with the proposal or find better solutions.

“It’s fair to say comments are generally unfavorable to the (proposals),” said professor Michael King, chair of the Dean’s Counsel in the Columbian College of Arts and Science. King is currently preparing a response to the calendar proposal on behalf of CCAS faculty.

Last November, University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg proposed a change in GW’s academic calendar to solve problems related to academic engagement and utilization of facilities, including residence halls and classrooms. His plan evolved into a calendar consisting of the regular fall and spring semester and a mandatory 10-week summer session for rising juniors. A four-by-four credit system in which students take four four-credit classes each semester is also being discussed. Senior administrators are accepting feedback from the GW community until Nov. 1.

Professor Phil Wirtz, one of three School of Business and Public Management’s representatives to the Faculty Senate, said the proposal does not carry the endorsement of the business school faculty. He added that a summer term might be something “worthwhile” but needs to be discussed between faculty and administrators.

“We’re ready and willing to work with administration on something that will meet financial constraints while maintaining academic integrity,” Wirtz said. “We’re prepared to work with administration as long as it takes to get this on the right track.”

Some faculty members said they do not think the University has clearly outlined the problems it wants to solve.

“These are pretty radical changes, and the main question is why are they being proposed? What needs to be fixed?” said Marie Price, associate professor of geography and international affairs. “If it’s pedagogical, that’s one thing. If it’s financial, then that’s another thing. There may be better ways to improve the financial situation of the University.”

She added that once these issues are identified, administrators can work with faculty to find the best solution. Price suggested the idea of offering more Friday classes or holding more classes at the Mount Vernon Campus. She also said the University could look into making the current summer programs more attractive without making them mandatory.

Some faculty members who said they feel informed about the University’s motives to institute calendar changes said they do not feel convinced that the proposals will benefit students.

“I think it will be an inconvenience to some students with definite plans for the summer,” said Gregg Jackson, associate professor for education policy.

King said several small departments find it impossible to staff summer courses.

“For a small department, there’s no way we could do the summer program and keep our regular spring and fall semesters,” said Price about the geography department, which consists of six faculty members.

The current faculty teaching load would have to be greatly increased or more adjunct professors would need to be hired to teach during the summer.

The University would add between 33 and 47 full-time faculty members depending on which option the University institutes, according to the Study Group on an Alternative Academic Calendar’s report.

The statement from CCAS will also propose alternative solutions to achieve the goals of engagement and utilization of facilities in addition to expressing concerns such as those raised by small departments.

The SBPM recently drafted a statement on the calendar proposals enumerating the school’s main concerns. Wirtz said the report includes concerns about the indirect impact a summer plan would have on graduate schools, something that has not yet been addressed. It also noted that the faculty has not had enough time to review the proposals.

“There’s a possible inconsistency with some accreditation standards our department has to meet. We haven’t had the chance to see the impact on accreditation,” Wurtz said.

Wirtz also said a 10-week summer term would make students feel “extremely pressed” to learn material generally taught in 14 weeks unless there is an increase in classroom time.

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services said one proposal suggested implementing a winter term in which students take one or two abbreviated classes in January.

“We’re discovering a lot of people are creative in their thinking,” Chernak said. “It’s interesting to see how this has spurred debate.”

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