Academic Calendar Changes Up for Debate Again

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.

On October 8, Provost Tom Stephenson and Dean of Students Liz Braun sent out an email asking for feedback about changes to the academic calendar. The proposed new “balanced calendar” includes a  shortened exam period and an earlier graduation date. It serves as an alternative to the calendar that was proposed in 2014 but was strongly opposed by the class of 2015, the first class it would affect, and was later dismissed as a result of the harsh criticism it received from students.

The calendar changes the faculty approved in 2014 resulted in a shorter reading period, a shorter senior week and an earlier graduation for the class of 2015. Many of the class of 2015 were dissatisfied with this change, and published a two page document that was provided to the faculty at a faculty meeting, outlining their concerns with the proposed calendar change.

Following discussions with faculty and students, the Provost decided to revert back to the original schedule for the class of 2015, but noted that the schedule would be altered to adapt to the concern of students and implemented for the class of 2017.

During this re-evaluation, the curriculum committee collected data about students’ exams, and came up with two alternative calendars: the “balanced calendar” and the “default calendar.”

The “balanced calendar” includes the features outlined in Stephenson’s email, sent on October 8: “The Committee proposes restoring the spring reading period to 5 days.  In return, however, the total number of days from the beginning to the end of the exam period is decreased from 10 to 7, by scheduling exams on a Sunday, and on Friday and Saturday evenings.”

The “default calendar” includes the same earlier commencement date as the “balanced calendar,” a shortened three day reading period, and a nine day exam period. When explaining why the new calendar is dubbed “balanced,” Stephenson explained, “We balanced the reading period and the length of finals period.”

The original motivation for holding an earlier graduation was due to the amount of time non-Honors seniors had between the end of classes and graduation, along with a desire by the faculty to move graduation earlier, said Stephenson.

According to Stephenson, non-Honors seniors, who make up about seventy to eighty percent of the graduating class, had two to two-and-a-half free weeks between the end of classes and commencement with the past schedule.

“We don’t think that’s an acceptable situation,” he said.

In addition, Stephenson added, “The faculty are by and large in favor of providing more flexibility in the Summer season.” This flexibility is provided by having an earlier graduation date.

However, for Honors students — who take written exams in the exam period in addition to other course exams, and oral exams immediately after — the original proposed change was especially difficult.

“I hope that the Honors program will thrive whatever the calendar may be. It’s finally more important than the calendar,” said Professor of English Literature and Honors Coordinator Craig Williamson. “I have consistently supported the current (old) calendar, but I think the new calendar has been modified in ways that make it more workable.”

The “balanced calendar” restores the reading period, but reduces the exam period to eight days, during which honors students will take all of their honors written exams and their other course exams. Further, it reduces the Senior week following this exam period actually consists of four days.

“Last time this year the faculty sided with the students, and I have total faith that they will continue to do that,” said Patrick Ross ‘15, who advocated against the original changes. “Now that we aren’t rushing things, I’m sure a fair compromise can be reached. I still think that [senior] week is crucially important and that rushing the end of the year is ill-advised […]. The thing we lose now, with this adjusted schedule, is not important study time but important social time which– in my estimation– is equally important. But I do hear, as I did last year, the faculty’s wish to shorten the calendar, and I really do trust that our professors will continue to keep our best interests in mind.”

Following the outlining the “balanced” and “default” calendars, Stephenson and Braun asked for feedback from students. The final decision about the calendar will be made on Friday, October 23 in a faculty meeting.

“It’s been a long process, but I finally think we did it right this time,” said Stephenson.

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