Faculty Approve 13-Week Spring Semester Calendar
Issue   |   Wed, 04/27/2016 - 00:00

Faculty voted to approve a 13-week calendar for the spring 2017 academic semester on Tuesday, April 19. The new calendar, which will be implemented for the next three spring semesters, will replace one week of classes from the current 14-week spring calendar with a “reading and reflection period.” This time will consist of four days of reading period and three days reserved for snow days or a day of dialogue.

The idea for the 13-week calendar was raised by the College Council after faculty members, particularly those in the science departments, requested the College Council to re-institute a three-week interterm. The College Council has been working on the new calendar proposal for two years.

“The science faculty wanted to reinstate a longer interterm because they thought it was really crucial for thesis writers, for faculty doing research, for field trips, for internship experiences, et cetera,” Tasha Kim ’18, a senator and member of the College Council, said. “We [the College Council] agreed with them.”

A 13-week calendar allows Amherst’s schedule to match up better with those of the other schools in the Five College consortium.

“We’re completely off cycle with the Five Colleges right now,” art history professor and College Council chair Nicola Courtright said. “Students now are finishing their semesters and they have to leave their dorms before we give their exams. It’s a nightmare. We’re completely off. With the 13 weeks, we’ll go back to having some consonance with the Five Colleges in the spring.”

However, it was not possible for the College Council to reinstate the three-week long interterm without shortening the reading period to two days.

“It’s more rare to have the unbalance that we do,” Courtright said. “It’s unusual to have [semesters of] unequal lengths … we are very bad with the reading period, honestly … most places have much longer reading periods.”

As a result, the College Council proposed converting the final week of spring classes into a “reading and reflection period.” This change guaranteed a three-week long interterm and maintained a reading period longer than two days by shortening the spring semester to 13 weeks.

“We could not change the date of graduation or shorten exam period,” Silvia Sotolongo ’19, another senator and member of the College Council, said. “So we came to the conclusion that a shorter academic period would be the best solution.”

There were many objections to the 13-week calendar. The music and theater and dance departments voiced their concerns regarding the shortened calendar because it would cut a week of performances. Furthermore, faculty members across other departments were worried about the shortened class time. Faculty members voiced concerns that students would be better served learning in a classroom environment rather than on their own. Other concerns were that the period between last day of classes and exams would be too long because of the new lengthened reading period.

Benefits of the proposal were discussed as well.

“Students will now have a lot more time to study for their exams,” Sotolongo said. “It also gives a cushion period to make up for any snow days or days of dialogues that may happen during the spring.”

Courtright noted that the recent policy change mandating campus-wide snow days, which does not give the option to professors to hold class despite the weather, could lead to more spring classes being cancelled.

Alternative plans included a separate 13-and-a-half week academic calendar developed by the Committee on Educational Policy. The College Council ultimately decided that the 13-week calendar would be the best option. The Committee on Educational Policy did not reach a consensus on the calendar, physics professor and the committee’s chair David Hall said.

“With no make-up days, we felt that this [13-and-a-half week] calendar was inconsistent and would give some classes a full 14 weeks and some only 13,” Sotolongo said.

The process for creating the calendar was long. The College Council studied other college’s calendars and compared Amherst College’s calendar with the rest of the Five College Consortium. The drafted proposal was then sent to the Committee of Six, which recommended that the College Council reach out to the student body first. Courtright met with the student government to hear the student government’s opinion and then with the CEP. Finally, the proposal returned to the Committee on Six, which brought it to a faculty vote.