Proposed Academic Calendar
Makes Semesters Identical
By Richard Veilleux
A revision of the University's academic calendar, which creates two identical semesters, extends Thanksgiving break to a full week, and ends each semester several weeks earlier than the current schedule, will be raised for discussion tonight at the University Senate.
The proposal, first discussed in the senate last April, offers significant advantages to students and flexibility to UConn faculty and administrators, including the possibility of introducing a December Commencement.
The new calendar proposes starting classes on the Monday before Labor Day, having a full week's break for Thanksgiving, and ending exams in mid-December. The spring semester would begin in mid-January, would have a weeklong break, and would conclude final exams by early May. In the fall semester, there is a break for Labor Day and in the spring for Martin Luther King's birthday. Both semesters build in two days for reading.
"There are a number of advantages to the new calendar," says Sally Reis, head of the Department of Educational Psychology and a proponent of the change. "It is straightforward, eliminating 'virtual' days; creates new opportunities for summer conferences and classes; and gives students a head start in their summer job search," she says.
It also offers flexibility to students, faculty and staff in the School of Education. "Our seniors begin student teaching in early January, and this calendar provides flexibility in on-campus housing and allows them to start their student teaching assignments earlier," she says.
Other UConn students apparently find the schedule attractive, too. On September 25, the Academic Affairs Committee of the Undergraduate Student Government crafted a position statement to be presented at tonight's meeting. The resolution says adopting the proposal, which makes each semester more cohesive by eliminating several "gaps" in the current schedule, including Columbus Day, will "maximize time in class and create continuity for lesson planning" by professors. In turn, this will lead to "a more rigorous academic environment that can only benefit the University," the resolution says.
The proposed change is not without its critics, however. John Clauson, an associate professor of natural resources management and engineering, uses the January break to conduct research on wetlands in Patagonia, a region of Argentina. He and other faculty who conduct research in South America are concerned the truncated break will disrupt their work.
"Our concern is that in most years the shorter break would prevent travel. It would slow down, if not halt, research activities there," Clauson says.
However, the new calendar may permit some faculty to teach in the fall and summer, thus offering them the opportunity for research in the spring.
Other faculty said the shorter break would curtail their ability to prepare and submit grant proposals, many of which are due in February and early March.
Gerald Gianutsos is chair of the senate's Scholastic Standards Committee, the panel that first submitted the proposal in April 2001. He says he is sympathetic to faculty preparing grant proposals, but adds that he "suspects the criticism is a little overblown. We have grant deadlines throughout the academic year, and shortening the break shouldn't make that much difference."
Gianutsos says the proposal, "on balance," is superior to the current calendar. And he cites the same reasons as other proponents for his support of the proposal. "It's consistent. It's classes Monday through Friday, it eliminates virtual days, and the earlier spring closing is good for the students," he says.
It also would be good for the University, says Chancellor John Petersen.
"The proposal has many overall benefits for the University," says Petersen. One of them would be, he says, to bring UConn's calendar into alignment with other research universities throughout the country.
The proposal would not affect the academic calendars at the UConn Health Center or the School of Law, where requirements by their professional accreditation organizations preclude a change. The University's regional campuses, however, would use the new calendar.