This is the second in a series of editorials addressing the proposed alternative academic calendar.
With the many student life concerns dominating the discussion surrounding the administration’s proposal for a mandatory summer session, it is easy to overlook the potential impact a change to a trimester-like system could have on GW’s faculty. While administrators stress a focus on the theory as opposed to “tactics” arising from its implementation, “tactics” are paramount to understanding the applicability of such a system. Because of the effect the switch could have on professors and smaller academic departments, it is reasonable to assume that a mandatory summer session could result in a decrease in the quality of education.
Any system in which students are mandated to take summer courses would place a heavy burden on University faculty. In a majority of cases, faculty members are under contract to work during the fall and spring semesters while using the summer as a time to pursue research and relaxation. A mandatory summer session would require a significant number of professors to stay on campus during the usually sparsely-populated season. Requiring professors to work during the summer may also require a re-negotiation of a significant number of faculty contracts, and it would also affect the faculty’s lives outside the University.
It is easy to forget that providing education is a professor’s livelihood. While students are concerned about the continuity of leadership in student organizations, professors must think about the impact such a change could have on their families. Mandating that a professor work during the summer decreases the opportunity for him or her to spend time with family. Providing childcare during the day becomes yet another concern for professors with young children. Just as the University must address student concerns outside the classroom, it is equally important for the University to speak to the quality of life of its professors. It is not acceptable to make professors work three terms in row. Allowing them a term off would require a significant addition to the faculty, which the administration contends it is planning for.
A summer session could undoubtedly put a significant strain on smaller academic departments. The department of geography, for example, has only six full-time faculty members. In order to meet the needs of a summer session, the faculty of the geography department would either be forced to work year-round or would need to hire several adjunct faculty members. Neither of these options is beneficial to quality of education. Further, intradepartmental collaboration would be damaged if faculty members were split and forced to work during different trimesters. Often professors collaborate with one another for research and instruction purposes. The traditional cycle of office camaraderie will thus be damaged, and the result could be disjointed departments lacking focus.
Administrators hope some of the extra revenue from a mandatory summer session would go to increased faculty pay. This is needed to attract and retain top academics and could be the most positive outcome of an alternative academic calendar for faculty.
Seeking faculty input at this stage of the process is a great start. However, in order to ensure the success of a summer session, faculty input must be integrated into every stage of the process. Many faculty members actually agree with the University’s overall goals of increased funding to improve academics. But it’s the mechanism for increasing revenue that many faculty members have a problem with. Expecting faculty members to support this idea in theory, without being able to iron out concerns during the policy’s formulation, would be a tragic misstep.