Professors consider altered term schedule

| 11/29/10 11:00pm

Dartmouth administrators and faculty met on Monday to discuss proposed changes to the academic calendar which would schedule Fall term to end before Thanksgiving and address preliminary concerns about the College's strategic planning process at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences general meeting.

Philosophy professor Samuel Levey, who chairs the committee on instruction, presented four different proposals for the altered term calendar. In considering the proposals, the committee was primarily concerned with ensuring "instructional coherence," which Levey said is currently disrupted by Thanksgiving break.

One proposal would compress the Summer term to nine weeks from the current 10, moving the end of Fall term to before Thanksgiving. Levey said this proposal was received "coolly" by the committee and faculty members, and was unlikely to go forward. The second proposal, which Levey said was "most attractive," would move Fall term earlier by shortening the break between Summer and Fall terms.

The two other proposals being seriously considered by the committee would cancel classes during the week of Thanksgiving and compensate by adding classes either to the first week or the last week of the Fall term. Faculty said classes held during the week of Thanksgiving are often poorly attended or cancelled by professors due to anticipated low attendance, Levey said.

Although a fifth proposal would end classes before Thanksgiving while holding final exams after the holiday, Levey said it was "not considered a viable option" because it would provide a financial incentive for students to enroll in classes without exams.

Last year, College officials discussed a calendar that would end Fall term before Thanksgiving by starting Fall and Summer terms earlier and condensing the break between Spring and Summer terms, The Dartmouth previously reported. This plan remains unlikely because it interferes with Commencement and Reunion and other logistical concerns, Dean of the Faculty Michael Mastanduno said in an interview with The Dartmouth following the meeting.

College President Jim Yong Kim said that no viable calendar option would affect staff compensation or term length, and that the primary consideration would be the effect of the changes on students and professors.

"It's really a question of what's best for faculty and what's best for students," Kim said.

During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, faculty brought up other concerns about the calendar change, including the effect the changes would have on freshman orientation and Dartmouth Outing Club first-year trips, energy costs in buildings and the environmental effects of traveling students.

The committee on instruction plans to set up a website where faculty can offer their feedback on calendar changes, according to Levey. The changes would not be brought into effect until 2012 at the earliest, Mastanduno said.

"The most important thing is that we take the time to do it right," Mastanduno said.

Ideally, the faculty would reach a consensus and vote on the proposals during the 2010-2011 academic year, he said.

College Provost Carol Folt followed Levey's presentation with a discussion on the College's preliminary strategic planning efforts and gathered feedback from attending faculty on what direction the College should take in its academic planning. Among the issues discussed were the effect of technology on higher education, increasing competition between colleges and universities, and how best to prepare College graduates for 21st century problems.

The strategic planning process occurs roughly once a decade usually at the same time as the College's reaccreditation as a "visioning process" where the administration "takes a step back" and assesses its values, goals and performance, Mastanduno said. He added that he thinks strategic planning is an important opportunity for the College to refocus its priorities.

"As good an institution as we are, I think we could do better," he said.

Administrators are hoping to take a more "bottom-up" approach with strategic planning this year, gathering more input from the faculty, according to Mastanduno. Folt said the strategic planning process would continue in greater depth during Winter term.

Also at the meeting, biology professor Kathryn Cottingham, who chairs the committee on the faculty, discussed the committee's work on faculty quality of life, competitive sabbaticals, faculty compensation and communication between faculty.

Computer science professor Scot Drysdale, chair of the committee on organization and policy, presented the committee's discussions concerning grading policies, implementation of recommendations from the reaccreditation process, and the role of the faculty in strategic planning.