Penn’s academic calendar for the 2013-14 school year may look significantly different than it has in the past.
Provost Vince Price is currently considering a calendar proposal that, if approved, would require 2013-14 classes to begin Aug. 28. New Student Orientation would start on Aug. 23.
This year, the first day of classes was Sept. 7. The last August start date for a fall semester came in 1974.
The proposed changes exist as part of an effort to keep the University in compliance with statewide regulations.
In 2013-14, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education — one of eight regional accrediting organizations for higher education institutions recognized by the United States Department of Education — will conduct a reaccreditation review of the University to ensure it is adhering to state and federal education standards. Penn was last reaccredited in 2004.
Since that time, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has issued new regulations about college credit that use hours of instruction to define a credit.
Under the department’s “Curricular Credit Policy” passed in March 2008, institutions are required to offer a minimum of 42 instructional hours for a semester-based course.
Some fall semester courses at Penn currently offer just 36 total hours of instructional time, said Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning in the Provost’s Office Rob Nelson, who drafted the calendar and has been revising it over the past few months with input from student leaders, faculty and undergraduate deans.
The new regulations make it “a foregone conclusion that we’re going to have to add significant instructional time in the fall,” Nelson said, explaining that the fall semester has historically been about a week shorter than the spring.
The Council of Undergraduate Deans, which unanimously voted to send the calendar to Price at a meeting on Wednesday, considered “virtually every possible scheduling permutation or combination thinkable,” Nelson said. “In the end, this version made the most sense to everybody.”
Nelson added that “by far the most common faculty response” to the scheduling issue was to eliminate fall break.
“The problem is, eliminating fall break doesn’t fix the problem,” Nelson said. “What we needed [to comply with the regulations] was six more instructional days.”
Student leaders responded negatively to the prospect of removing fall break from the 2013-14 academic calendar.
Maintaining fall break was a top priority for students because “it is extremely difficult to keep up the high intensity needed to succeed at school for three months without any break in your schedule,” said College senior Joyce Greenbaum, chairwoman of the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education.
As SCUE chairwoman, Greenbaum is the only student representative who has a vote on CUD. While the idea of starting classes before Labor Day is not ideal, she said, the proposed calendar could come with several benefits — like allowing Penn students to return to campus at a similar time as some of their peers at other institutions, for example.
Wharton and Engineering senior Tyler Ernst, president of the Undergraduate Assembly, agreed.
“The bottom line here is to make sure that we’re all still attending an accredited institution, and beginning before Labor Day was really the only way to make that happen,” Ernst said.
Though fall break is still intact for 2013-14, the proposed calendar does shift the two-day vacation to Thursday and Friday, as opposed to its current Monday and Tuesday structure.
In addition to the fall break shift, Nelson said, CUD has proposed holding classes which typically fall on Thursday and Friday instead on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving break.
Currently, “a fall class on Monday might meet 12 times per semester, while a fall class on Wednesday might meet 14 times per semester because of how the holidays fall,” Nelson said. “This proposal balances that … and fixes the inequality [in length] between the fall and spring semester.”
The changes would also equalize the days of the week on which fall holidays — which include one day off for Labor Day, as well as two days off for both fall break and Thanksgiving break — occur, so that there is no imbalance in the calendar.
Not all, however, were initially in favor of the current proposed version of the calendar.
College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dennis DeTurck said he at first supported a proposal that centered around converting all 50-minute classes into hour-long sessions.
“What we need is about 10-percent more instructional time, and about 10 more minutes per hour would have taken care of that” while allowing classes to begin after Labor Day, DeTurck said. He added that he dropped the proposal after facing resistance from faculty members.
DeTurck pointed to various logistical considerations — for instance, working with renters to modify lease schedules for off-campus housing — as potential drawbacks to the current proposal.
Despite his concerns, DeTurck voted in support of the calendar at Wednesday’s meeting because “we need the extra days, and this addresses that need.”
“It isn’t ideal, but it may be the best we can do,” he said. “By 2015, this will probably feel like the way things have always been done.”
Nelson, who expects to see a final decision on the calendar in about a month, agreed.
“This calendar represents the least disruptive of all the proposals [CUD] considered,” Nelson said. “I don’t necessarily like the reason we’re having to confront this issue, but I like that we’re having to confront it.”Comments powered by Disqus
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