Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last May, when Provost Tom Stephenson touted the revised spring schedule as “a significant advantage to our community,” the change seemed final. After a student campaign and a recent faculty meeting on the subject, things are much less certain.
At last Friday’s faculty meeting, Professor Craig Williamson moved to reconsider the schedule, and his motion passed by a substantial margin. The reconsideration was a direct response to student discontent with the changes. At the meeting, a two-page document prepared by the senior class was provided to faculty, outlining many of the concerns students have about the schedule changes. Williamson, like many other faculty, has come to feel that students’ voices had not been considered in the original decision.
“They hadn’t really been involved in the change, or invited to respond to it,” Williamson said.
During their next meeting, on September 26, the faculty may choose to go back to the old schedule, stick with the current one, or choose a third alternative. Williamson indicated that in the absence of a decision, the College would go back to the pre-May calendar.
“The default position is the old, original calendar,” he said.
Though Williamson has advocated for a reversal of the decision, he grants that going back to the original schedule is not the only alternative. Together with several other professors, he has been working on a proposal that would see spring classes ending a week earlier, with an extended reading period that would allow honors students more time to prepare for exams, while maintaining the changed graduation date. Additionally, the currently shortened senior week would be extended to only one day less than its original duration.
Other initiatives that have been suggested include pass-fail for honors students taking course classes and honors classes ending a week earlier.
Some students, however, are unenthusiastic about changes to the honors program.
“I am definitely open to compromises. But […] it seems like I am being compromised, as opposed to we are agreeing on a compromise,” Honors student Patrick Ross ‘15 said.
“In the world where the new calendar exists, it’s hard to figure out exactly what gets compromised. And I would like it not to be the rigor of the honors program. And I would like it not to be the length of senior week. But in both cases [the new calendar and the possible third option], that is what’s been compromised,” Ross added.
Last May’s decision was made after a year-long study by the Curriculum Committee, which has three student members. However, professors and administrators have indicated that changing the calendar had been considered long before this study was conducted.
“The idea of changing the spring calendar to be more in line with many of our peers has been a topic of conversation for many years at Swarthmore,” Dean of Students Liz Braun said.
Ross, Lauren Barlow ‘15, Rehana Omardeen ‘15, Tim Vaughn ‘15, and Peter Amadeo ‘15, have been heavily involved in the student-led campaign to reverse the changes from the very beginning.
When the provost announced the changes, their first instinct was to meet with Liz Braun. This meeting, however, proved discouraging.
“In that initial meeting, it sounded like there was no possible way this change could be reverted at all. We were told this was permanent and this is just how it’s going to be,” Barlow said.
Others told them that no change was possible until the faculty meeting on September 12. Leading up to this meeting, the students focused on synthesizing student concerns and making faculty aware of them, culminating in a letter by Ross that was published in the Phoenix, which was suggested by interim president Constance Hungerford.
Though 90% of the students who voted on StuCo’s online poll opposed the changes and many professors disagree with the way they were decided on, it remains unclear how likely it is that the reconsideration will bring about a reversal.
“I think the general feeling [among professors] is that they think they did this incorrectly. Or that they made a mistake. Even if they stand by the decision, I think most of them seriously understand that it was done incorrectly. Which is why most of them are in favor of just having a discussion […] whether or not they end up sticking with the decision.” Ross said.
Some factors surrounding the decision remain unclear to students. For instance, some students reported hearing that decreasing the risk of sexual assault had been a reason for the schedule change, and responded to it in a separate petition presented at the faculty meeting. Dean Braun, however, dismissed the sexual assault factor as a rumor and said she was surprised to hear it mentioned.
Many students, like Barlow, who is an admissions fellow, are motivated in their discontent not just by the schedule change, but by the way the decision was made and announced.
“We could point to [this change] and say ‘we’re really uncomfortable with how this decision got made’ but in our info sessions we would talk about how this is a wonderful school where our Quaker founding kind of creates this sense of equal footing with students, administrators, and faculty. […] There was such a disparity between what we were saying in our info sessions and what we felt as students,” Barlow said.
Administrators agreed that the decision-making process could have benefited from more transparency.
“Students were not adequately made aware that this decision was pending when the original decision was made,” Braun said.
With the end of the year approaching, many realize that the time to make a decision is running out. Some students fear that time delays could be used as a pretext for sticking to the new schedule.
“A part of me fears that they’re gonna say “it’s too late, we need to make a decision, so let’s just stick with the decision,”” Ross said.
Stephenson, however, assured students that a decision would be made in a timely manner.
“We have to basically set the graduation date for this year pretty darn quickly because people have to make plans,” he said.