Year-round operation makes College unique

by Kathrin Weston | 5/1/98 5:00am

Although sophomores may have received strange looks from their friends back home when they told them they would be at Dartmouth this summer, students and professors alike do not seem to mind the College's year-round operation system.

Professors and students said the benefits of Dartmouth's year-round operation system outweigh its disadvantages, including a schedule that is out of sync with most other schools.

"It's wonderful, not wasteful like the traditional system at some other institutions," English Professor William Cook said.

The traditional academic calendar, Cook said, was based on the lives of farmers, who had to work on the fields during the summer -- something most students do not need to do today.

Cook said the only improvement the College could make to year-round operation would be "strengthening the offerings during the Summer term."

A hectic pace

"I'm happy with it, but the terms are a little on the short side," Russian Professor Richard Sheldon said. He said year-round operation makes schedules more flexible and "works well for off-campus programs."

Sheldon explained that in the early 1980s, a committee reported on faculty satisfaction with the quarter system. The science professors were mostly in favor of it, the humanities professors were largely against the system and the social science professors could not make up their minds, Sheldon said, so "there was no mandate for change."

Sheldon said the faculty has made adjustments to the short terms, such as assigning several shorter papers instead of one long term paper.

He said he cannot imagine changing the system at this point. "It would be a mind-boggling experience," he said.

He said he witnessed a transition from quarters to semesters at the University of California at Berkeley, which he said was a difficult process.

Sheldon said he believes the faculty now has a mostly positive attitude toward the system of year-round operation.

"I used to hear people grumbling about it. I don't hear that anymore," he said.

Chemistry Department Chair John Winn said the pace of the quarter-system is "pretty hectic." He said the obvious advantages of the system is that it provides flexible schedules.

Science classes, especially those associated with laboratories, have an "extra burden to bear" by covering large amounts of material in only ten weeks, he said.

"But lots of topics we teach do fit nicely into the 10-week schedule," he added. If the College were to change its system of operation, it "would have to think long and hard about how to rearrange the courses we teach," Sheldon said.

Winn said one disadvantage of the College's schedule is that it starts and ends at different times from most universities.

"International scientific meetings sometimes collide with our teaching schedules," he said, as such conferences are usually planned according to more traditional academic calendars.

Ups and downs

Despite a summer spent hitting the books while friends at home are on the beach and despite long separations from friends on account of the Dartmouth Plan, most students said they like the College's year-round operation system.

"I think it's a good thing, it's a great opportunity to do internships," Christopher Welty '00 said.

Tony Perry '99 said the increased opportunities for internships and off-campus programs are some of the quarter-system's main advantages.

Although he said he likes the system, he said it was difficult to concentrate so much material into 10 weeks.

Kathryn Hutchinson, the associate director of Career Services, said Dartmouth is "very attractive to employers as a source of interns," and the system of year-round operation gives students a better chance of participating in internships.

Hutchinson explained most employers tend to think along the lines of more traditional academic calendars, so the majority of internships are offered during the summer. If a particularly attractive internship is only listed for the Summer term, she said she encourages students to "communicate their availability during other terms to the employer.

Other years, other schools

But Dartmouth is not the only school with a non-traditional academic calendar.

Places like Colby, Middlebury and Williams Colleges operate on a system that includes a one-month long winter term designed to give students the opportunity to experiment with different fields of study.

Colby, which offers no classes in the summer, has three-month fall and spring terms, as well as the "Jan-Plan." George Coleman, the Registrar, explained that Colby instituted the short winter term because it "didn't want to throw away the month of January" after final exams were over.

Under the Jan-Plan, students may only take one course, which can carry either between two and five academic credits or none at all.

Jan-Plan courses are a chance for the faculty to "do off-the-wall things," Coleman said. One of the most popular courses involves Emergency Medical Training, a non-credit class that offers students the chance to become EMT certified, he said.

Coleman said he thinks this term, which used to be required for four years and is now required for three, is popular with the students.

Middlebury College has a similar academic calendar, which offers regular fall and spring semesters in which students take four classes, as well as a winter term for the month of January, called the "J-Term," where students devote their time to only one class. Many students also participate in internships during this time, said Amy Knapp, student records analyst.

"There's a vast array of different things they can work on," she said.

Knapp said the J-Term is "very, very popular" with students.

"We're in Vermont, and they're skiing," she said, "They have one course they focus on, and they like to have the free time."

At Williams College, which operates on the semester basis but does not offer courses during the summer, students also concentrate on one course during January "Winter Study."

Assistant Registrar Mary Morrison said Winter Study is a more non-traditional approach to learning. While students take four courses in the fall and spring, they experiment in new areas by taking one intensive course in the winter.

Courses are suggested by faculty members, and upperclassmen may enter proposals for independent study projects, which "must have an academic quality and must be approved by a committee," Morrisson said.

Winter Study is meant to afford students a "different type of academic experience outside of the normal courses," she explained.