University to study optional winter session

A University committee is set to begin researching an optional winter session and expanded summer programs as ways to generate additional revenue, officials said this week. The more conservative proposals come after administrators recently backed away from a mandatory summer session, following strong opposition by faculty and students this fall.

Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman said the task force, which he will chair, will begin to meet either this spring or next fall to develop ideas for increasing University funds. The committee will consist of faculty members and probably one undergraduate and one graduate student.

“(There) will be a theme of ‘how do we generate the resources needed to fund the strategic plan?'” he said.

The strategic plan includes the University Writing Program and other initiatives geared toward “academic excellence.”

Lehman said his committee will consider a mid-year term in January, “innovative” summer programs and additions to professional degree programs.

Administrators began investigating potential changes to the academic calendar in November 2002, after University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg proposed a trimester system to increase efficiency and fully utilize University facilities. A task force analyzed a calendar proposal last spring, which included a mandatory summer session for rising juniors and a four-credit, four-class structure.

A summer session could have brought it up to $11 million and enabled the University to enroll an additional 1,000 undergraduates, according to the report released this summer, but figures were not definite because the task force made several assumptions about the session and its operations.

But a number of schools and the Faculty Senate disapproved of the proposal, citing academic concerns including overworking small departments, forcing faculty to teach in the summer and lack of coordination with GW graduate schools’ schedules.

Trachtenberg has argued that GW needs to find new mechanisms for revenue to pay for improvements to facilities and academics. The University is currently dependent on tuition for a major portion of its revenue, and administrators have said they want to avoid significantly increasing the $30,000 price tag.

Lehman said he could not provide a timeline for the new committee study but that he is hoping to start working in March and conclude by December.

“You can’t do these things overnight,” Lehman said. “First you have to come up with the ideas, then study them, then analyze them.”

GW has recently added new summer programs, including the Broadcast Summer, which debuted last summer. Students enroll in 12 credit hours and take some classes that are not offered during the fall and spring semesters.

Lehman said a winter session could be open to GW and non-GW students but added that it is too early to discuss further details.

The University of Delaware, which has had an optional winter session for more than 30 years, attracts about half its undergraduate population of about 16,000 students to its five-week term.

Delaware students can spend five weeks out of their seven-week break enrolled in classes. Allan Fanjoy, administrator of special sessions at Delaware, said classes over the winter meet for about an hour and a half, Monday to Friday.

He said the winter works similarly to Delaware’s summer session, but about 5,600 students attend summer, while about 8,000 attend winter.

“(One reason more students) choose to do winter option is because it’s so darn cold outside,” Fanjoy said. “A lot (of students) might want to be doing something else in the summertime.”

He said core curriculum classes are generally offered during the winter, such as introductory science and history classes.

“Sometimes folks will choose to do winter or summer because one particular course is going to be tough for them. It’s going to be the book at the bottom of the pile,” Fanjoy said. “And yet if it’s the only thing … on the plate they will do it and will perhaps succeed at it better.”

Some GW faculty members said they are open to learning about a possible winter session.

William Griffith, chair of the Faculty Senate’s budget and fiscal planning committee, was opposed to the mandatory summer session but said he would not have “any initial prejudices” against a winter session.

“With regard to the mandatory summer session, the plan that was presented to the Faculty Senate seemed not to be a workable plan,” Griffith said. “It over-projected revenues and under-projected costs. (It was) not feasible.”

He said his committee is concerned about GW’s classroom shortage next year and the overall economic standing of the University. He also noted GW’s debt, of about $680 million, which he called “pretty high for a private university.”

Griffith said, “I certainly recognize ways for raising more revenue.”

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