To: R. Bryan Miller, Chair
Davis Division of the Academic Senate
Subject: Semester Conversion
The Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) discussed the possible semester conversion at three meetings (October 9, October 16, and October 31, 1997). Committee members presented legitimate arguments in favor of both the semester system and the quarter system. Both systems are currently in use at large research universities. Each system clearly has its own pedagogical advantages and disadvantages, and the committee has made an attempt to summarize many of these below.
The costs associated with increased faculty and staff workload to accomplish a conversion of the calendar from quarters to semesters are clearly extremely large and very difficult to estimate in detail. Such an increase in workload would lead to severely reduced faculty productivity in research and in the normal teaching mission. In addition, many members of the committee felt that serious curricular reform to solve UCD's budget problems could be accomplished without the conversion to a semester system and the further curricular revision that that would entail. Money not used to convert the academic calendar could instead be used to improve education in other ways, e.g., by providing more faculty and staff FTE and more lecturers for impacted courses.
The workload implications for CEP specifically are large, as this committee normally reviews all undergraduate major and minor programs at UCD. According to the UC Davis 1997-98 General Catalog, there are 146 major programs and 82 minor programs. A change to the semester system would mean that every one of these major and minor programs would be revised, as all courses would be changed. CEP's role in reviewing all of these major and minor programs would be substantial, and a system of subcommittees to review programs in various disciplines would probably be necessary.
Arguments in favor of early semester system:
1. Longer time period gives students time to study a topic in more depth. Allows time for reflection and learning in a comprehensive manner, not just facts, but grasping of theories and generalizations.
2. More opportunity to assign longer term paper and research assignments, allowing more depth of study.
3. More effective use of library, e.g. interlibrary loan can take 7-8 weeks to obtain material.
4. Weaker students have time to realize they have a problem midway through a course, and enough time to work and improve their performance.
5. Students need time to absorb new concepts, e.g. most students could not learn calculus in a single 40 hour week, but need time to think about the ideas over a longer time period.
6. Less time administering both midterm and final exams.
7. Less time needed for faculty to deal with preparation and administration for courses which occurs only twice a year-e.g. reading lists, syllabi, exams, grades.
8. More opportunity for student-faculty contact during longer period of course.
9. Increase in time available for notifying students of academic actions and for late registration.
10. Easier for students to take courses at other nearby institutions, particularly UC Berkeley, CSU Sacramento, and community colleges. This may be more important if UCD outsources more remedial courses. This also may allow joint Ph.D. programs with UC Berkeley.
11. Additional faculty time for research during 4 week period between semesters could be beneficial.
12. Opportunity for faculty to revise entire curriculum. Such revision can be healthy.
13. Better use of textbooks, most of which are designed for semester system.
14. Academic year finishes earlier, allowing students to compete better for summer jobs and internships.
15. Early semester system reduces tendency for course fragmentation and overspecialization of department curricula.
16. Once conversion is complete, some administrative savings in only registering students twice a year. May allow better operation with current reduced staff.
Arguments in favor of quarter system:
1. More variety in courses possible.
2. More flexibility in arranging class schedule. Students can adjust their unit load to match their ability and/or outside job demand.
3. Increased entry and exit points for students.
4. Students have opportunity to take more courses during their college career.
5. Students must study more to keep up and therefore learn more.
6. More breadth and depth of majors due to larger variety of courses.
7. More flexibility in arranging material-can have 1, 2, or 3 quarter sequences offered at various times of year.
8. Shorter time frame is better for some specialized courses. Could be counteracted by making these courses fewer units over a semester.
9. For students who must withdraw during the term, less cost in time and money in quarter system.
10. Faculty can more easily double teaching loads for a quarter and then have a quarter free to do research.
11. Huge administrative workload in conversion to semester system. Not obvious if/when this pays off. With current reduced staff, not clear whether change in system can be implemented. Every course and every major in the university would need to be changed for semester conversion. What sort of increased funds will be available to aid in the conversion process?
12. Facilities, e.g. laboratories, can be used more effectively. If we currently have 500 students/quarter taking a course three times a year, it is not clear we can support those same students in laboratories if we only offer the course twice a year.
13. Many international workshops and meetings are scheduled in early or mid-September.
14. Change to semester system may cause change (increase?) in teaching loads.
15. Calendar fits division of year (Christmas and Easter breaks) more efficiently.
While each system has pros and cons, neither is inherently superior, and there exist methods by which each calendar system can accommodate advantages of the other. [Some examples are as follows: (1) team teaching within the semester system to allow more variety in subject matter and instructors for students (this may also make it easier for some faculty to pursue field research during the school year); (2)in-progress grading within the quarter system to permit longer and more intensive examination of subject matter within a course; (3) starting quarter system earlier in year so that students can finish earlier in summer to obtain jobs.]
Shirley Chiang, Chair
Committee on Educational Policy