Academic Calendar Modified; Sparks Discussion

Friday, March 12, 2010

In a letter sent March 10 from President Herzberger, the Whittier College campus community was updated on a variety of news items, including the implementation of a modified academic calendar for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. In short, this new schedule will decrease the January Interim Session (Janterm) by three days and consolidate the calendar by eliminating some of the "dead time" between the end of Janterm and the beginning of the spring semester. With this new calendar, Whittier will conclude the school year in mid-May. The change has sparked some discussion on campus regarding the impact on courses and required coursework, as well as the Society pledging process, which has typically taken place across almost four weeks in January.

The root causes of this modification to our calendar include an ongoing review of operations to find efficiencies and cost savings, the continued desire to increase funds available for student financial aid, and the opportunity to extend our curricular offerings with an additional intensive session ("Mayterm"). Additionally, in researching peer colleges and universities offering similar intensive, short-term sessions, we found course timeframes vary from slightly less than two weeks to four, with many lasting about three weeks in duration, similar to Whittier's. Faculty initiated the Janterm in the 1980s as a time for experimental courses, often taken off-campus and not tied to any particular class schedule. The popularity of this program has grown; the most recent Janterm saw over 800 of Whittier's students on campus.

From President Herzberger's letter (3.10.10): We have made a shift in the calendar for 2010-11, shortening Janterm by a few days and beginning Janterm and then the spring semester earlier. These changes will continue for the next two years, giving the faculty an opportunity to rethink Whittier's calendar in general and giving us a chance to weigh the pros and cons of the calendar change. Due to the earlier start date, Commencement will be held earlier (on May 13th in 2011), permitting both undergraduates and our graduating seniors to get an earlier jump on the job market. We also hope that the earlier graduation date will enable us to add a "Mayterm" that might be particularly attractive to students interested in taking a course over the summer.

Janterm was created by the faculty some years ago to encourage a wide variety of intense learning experiences for students, many of which could not be offered in the regular semester, and students repeatedly affirm that some of their best courses have been taken in Janterm. So I am a special fan of this part of our curriculum, and hope that we can stimulate even more such courses then and in a mini-May term as well.

There may be some shifting around of courses in January over the next few years, as some faculty find that the new timeframe precludes their teaching a particular course, and others want to try out new courses. Making the change this early, though, will allow us to plan well for next year, and we'll keep you posted.

I know that there will be many questions about the impact of this change on Society pledging. Deans Jeanne Ortiz and Andre Coleman have been talking with student leaders, making plans to ensure that this important activity can continue and in a manner that better supports students' academic progress. And there will also be implications for athletics; the earlier start date in January will mean that athletes will have many more people around to cheer them on for games early in the month, but those spring sports teams that head into post-season tournaments might need some of us who live nearby to turn out in force.

On Wednesday of this week, the Inter Society Council, comprising all Society presidents, met with Deans Ortiz and Coleman to begin discussions on a revised pledging calendar, and a meeting with Society alumni advisors and other interested alumni has been set for this evening, Friday, March 12, at 7p.m. in Hoover 100. Invitations to this meeting were sent to all alumni advisors by their respective active president, and many, in turn, encouraged their fellow society alumni to attend and participate in this important discussion.

As these discussions progress, and additional information becomes available, we will continue to update the community.