Students and faculty members have offered mixed reactions to the prospect of Penn’s fall semester beginning in August for the 2013-14 academic year.
On Oct. 19, the Council of Undergraduate Deans unanimously voted in favor of a calendar proposal that, if approved by Provost Vince Price, would require the 2013 fall semester to begin on Aug. 28. This would mark the first August start date since 1974.
Price is expected to make a decision in about a month, Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning in the Provost’s Office Rob Nelson said. The calendar would impact current freshmen and sophomores.
“I don’t think I support the proposal on the table,” College freshman Noah Rubin said. “I imagine that something like this would interfere with a lot of students’ internships … and lead to some other unintended consequences.”
While other students have expressed similar frustrations with the calendar proposal, Penn may have little choice for its future academic schedules.
Due to a series of regulations passed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education in March 2008, the University is required to add six instructional days to its calendar if it hopes to be reaccredited by the state.
Penn, which was last accredited in 2004, is up for reaccreditation in the 2013-14 school year.
Nelson, who drafted the initial calendar proposal, explained that the Department of Education’s “Curricular Credit Policy” requires all semester-based courses to offer at least 42 hours of instructional time.
Currently, some fall classes at Penn meet for just 36 hours, Nelson added.
Though CUD discussed various proposals — including eliminating fall break, reducing the number of reading days and increasing daily class time — in its deliberations, Nelson said starting classes in August represented “the least disruptive option.”
Some, however, have pointed to potential problems with an August start date.
College freshman Sydney Turchin said she “wouldn’t support a proposal like this, since we’ve been using the [current] schedule for so long and it’s clearly working well.”
Turchin, who said she would favor losing fall break over returning to campus earlier, added that she is especially concerned about how the proposal might impact leasing schedules for off-campus housing.
College sophomore Samara Gordon, who currently lives off campus and plans to continue doing so in the 2013-14 school year, said it will be “essential for Penn to maintain close communication with real estate agents” as that time draws nearer.
Many off-campus realtors currently begin their lease terms in late August or early September.
For example, leases for the Radian Apartments, which house about 500 students, currently run on a yearlong basis from Aug. 30 through Aug. 15.
Rachel Kihn — vice president of marketing at Inland American Communities, which manages the Radian — wrote in an email that “a change in school start dates would most likely result in a revision to the lease term dates for 2013-14.”
While the apartment complex has not yet finalized a leasing schedule for 2013-14, “it is standard procedure to update our lease contracts in accordance with our company policies, local ordinances, industry standards and a variety of other factors,” Kihn added.
Similarly, Campus Apartments regional property manager Jason Cohen said Campus Apartments will “work within the University’s parameters to accommodate the change.” Cohen estimated that Campus Apartments provides housing for about 2,000 Penn undergraduates and graduates.
Some students were pleased to learn of the calendar proposal.
“It feels like Penn’s start date already lags behind some peer schools, so I think it’s definitely a good idea,” College sophomore Kaila Bridgeman said.
Though Bridgeman already returns to campus before New Student Orientation — which would start on Aug. 23 in 2013 — because she is a member of NSO’s Peers Helping Incoming New Students group, she added that she “wouldn’t mind getting back to campus even earlier because this is where I want to be.”
“I don’t know about other students, but I’d prefer to go to an accredited university rather than an unaccredited one,” said College and Wharton sophomore Abe Sutton, the Undergraduate Assembly’s academic affairs director. “There were other things that could have been done [with this proposal], but I think this was the least painful way to do it.”
A few faculty members, however, have brought additional concerns to the table.
Political Science Department Chairman Edward Mansfield wrote in an email that about two-thirds of his department usually attends the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, which runs between the Thursday and Sunday directly before Labor Day.
Because of this, “my colleagues and I are concerned that the proposed change to the academic calendar will lead to the cancellation of many — if not most — political science classes during what would be the first week of classes,” he wrote.
Wharton freshman Dan Fine said he was disappointed that those who crafted the proposal did not seek more input from students.
“I do think that they needed to reach out more — specifically to the undergraduates at Penn — to help students understand how these changes might affect them,” he said.
Fine, who is on the University’s swimming team, added that the proposal may create difficulties for Penn athletes who participate in fall sports, “since many of them have to return to campus early as it stands now.”
Looking ahead, Nelson said the Provost’s Office “strongly encourages” students to share feedback with administrators and student government leaders.
“This affects students as much as it affects anyone on campus,” Nelson said. “We want to hear from them.”
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