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Forum held to discuss possible changes to Academic Calendar

by Sherry Fisher - May 4, 2009

More reading days for students before finals, a mid-semester break during the fall semester, and a large University-wide Commencement were among the issues on the minds of faculty during a public forum April 29 about the University’s Academic Calendar.

The discussion, in Andre Schenker Hall, was led by co-chairs of the University Senate Calendar Task Force Jeffrey von Munkwitz-Smith, University Registrar, and Cameron Faustman, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

A second forum was held April 30.

The task force was established when President Michael J. Hogan asked the Senate Executive Committee to review the calendar to determine whether it could be adapted to better meet the needs of the University. He has suggested starting the academic year after Labor Day, and offering a longer and more comprehensive winter session.

Hogan points out that a later-ending spring semester would improve the chances for better weather for a large, outdoor Commencement ceremony at Rentschler field in Hartford.

He says a larger Commencement would not preclude schools or units from also holding their own receptions. A larger venue for degree conferral, however, would help attract major speakers and increase the University’s visibility.

In addition to the issues raised by Hogan, the task force was asked to consider the minimal number of reading days – a particular concern in the spring, when exams for undergraduates overlap with the graduate Commencement ceremony.

The task force was asked to examine problems associated with the current fall calendar, including the effects of the Labor Day holiday early in the semester and the long stretch without a break between that holiday and Thanksgiving.

The short period of classes before finals after a week-long Thanksgiving break makes it difficult for students to re-engage in their work. There are also problems associated with laboratory classes when breaks are shorter than a week.

“Essentially what the committee is looking for is input,” said Hedley Freake, chair of the Senate Executive Committee, in a separate interview.

“They want to hear what members of the community have to say about the existing calendar and suggestions they have for its improvement. They want to make sure that all points of view are taken into consideration.”

Members of the task force have met with academic department heads, undergraduate education and instruction leaders, and associate deans.

They will also meet with regional campus directors and associate vice provosts, the Dean’s Council, and the enrollment services committee. Students have been encouraged to give their input by filling out an online survey via HuskyCT. The task force also met with Hogan.

Von Munkwitz-Smith and Faustman said they have found that people are “passionate” how Commencement should be handled.

“Schools and colleges like their individual ceremonies,” said von Munkwitz-Smith.

Robert McCarthy, dean of the School of Pharmacy, said he feels that students get far more out of small graduation ceremonies.

“What is a student’s advantage of a single Commencement?” he asked.

“Smaller commencement allows for more intimacy. They remember mom and dad taking their pictures. This is the students’ day.”

McCarthy said that finals running into Commencement is a problem. Also, from a student’s perspective, he said, the number of reading days is a problem.

He also felt that the possibility of extending the fall semester up to Dec. 23 is unfair for faculty and staff, and would create problems for grading.

Kathryn Ratcliff, assistant professor of sociology, said that having the Thanksgiving break so late in the fall semester is problematic: “A lot of students complain that it’s really stressful.”

The task force will present a report to the Senate Executive Committee in late fall. Faustman said the earliest any changes could be implemented would be fall 2011.

Comments on the Academic Calendar may be sent to http://senate.uconn.edu/calendar.html.

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