Penn readies for earlier start to the 2013 academic year

Several professors are altering their fall curriculums due to the schedule change

· October 23, 2012, 10:10 pm

From altering course syllabi to adjusting off-campus leasing schedules, the campus community is preparing for fall 2013 classes to begin earlier than they have in nearly four decades.

In order to comply with a series of new Middle States Commission on Higher Education regulations that require more instructional hours, the Provost’s Office approved an academic calendar last fall that will require classes next year to begin on Aug. 28. The first day of classes this year was Sept. 5.

Next year will mark the first time since 1974 that classes have begun in August.

In response to the altered calendar, instructors are now beginning to accommodate their fall syllabi.

For example, Critical Writing Program Director Valerie Ross said the extra week will level the playing field between students who take writing seminars in the fall and in the spring.

“Every year, the fall term is more compressed that the spring term,” she said. “If you had taken a fall seminar [before the change], I think you’d feel the difference in pacing. It’s amazing what a week can do.”

She added that because the seminars are very structured by nature, the extra week gives “some extra room” for instructors.

Wharton professor Anne Greenhalgh said she will take this opportunity to transform the curriculum for her Management 100 class.

Though the course is offered in both the fall and spring semesters, its curriculum differs slightly in that the fall semester tends to focus on nonprofit consulting while the spring semester focuses on partnering with local organizations. Because of the calendar change, she said she will not simply transfer the spring curriculum to the fall semester, but will actually take the chance to alter the syllabi for both semesters.

“I’d like to experiment in the spring — I like to be methodical, and the smaller class size in the spring will better prepare me in the fall,” Greenhalgh said.

In response to student feedback and concerns over courseload, Greenhalgh added that she is thinking of cutting down on a few lectures to allow for the increased coaching time.

“It’s important to be very focused and clear-minded about exactly what our objectives are and how best we can reach those objectives,” she said. “That’s kind of the hard look that I’m trying to take.”

The new calendar may not produce positive changes for every department across campus, however.

Political Science Department Chair Edward Mansfield said in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian last year that since many members of the department attend the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, which overlaps with what will be the first week of classes in 2013, “my colleagues and I are concerned that the … change to the academic calendar will lead to the cancellation of many — if not most — political science classes during [that week].”

Mansfield said the department has not yet decided on a course of action for scheduling next fall.

At the University level, the Provost’s Office is now ramping up its efforts to remind faculty of the change in the academic year so that they can start planning accordingly.

“We’re focused mostly on communication right now, so we just republished the academic calendar in the Penn Almanac to serve as a reminder,” said Rob Nelson, executive director for education and academic planning in the Provost’s Office.

Nelson said one of the concerns raised before the calendar change was approved was that many Philadelphia schools begin after Labor Day, so instructors who have children would find themselves at work while their children were not yet in school.

Nelson hopes that in addition to the academic changes, the Almanac reminder will give faculty time to make child-care arrangements. He added that Penn currently offers several child-care options through its Division of Human Resources and that faculty members can start to arrange for independent child care if needed.

Another aspect of campus life that students will see changed as a result of the new academic calendar is off-campus housing. Though many leases have traditionally started in September, off-campus housing providers have had to adjust their leases to match students’ needs.

Campus Apartments Regional Property Manager Jason Cohen said Campus Apartments has already begun to adjust its lease dates to end in July for the contracts signed for this academic year, instead of the previous August end date. Students signing leases for the upcoming academic year will then be able to start moving in in August.

“Many of our tenants appreciate what we were doing,” Cohen said. “We’ve had no issues or complaints.”

Comments powered by Disqus