Faculty and staff members and students can voice their suggestions and concerns about the academic calendar for the Urbana campus at a public hearing Feb. 7.
The Task Group for Review of Academic Calendar Guidelines has been reviewing the policies that govern Urbana’s academic calendar on behalf of the Senate Committee on Educational Policy and has forwarded its recommendations to the committee. As part of its deliberations, the Educational Policy Committee has scheduled a forum so that members of the campus community can offer input.
The academic calendar has generated much discussion at senate meetings throughout the years, and members of the Educational Policy Committee thought “it might be a good idea to revisit the issue and see if we can come up with any suggestions or recommendations for changes,” said Abbas Aminmansour, chair of the committee and a professor of architecture.
The task group, which comprised a cross-section of the campus community and included two student members, reviewed the calendars of other Big Ten universities and peer institutions, including Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin and the University of California’s Los Angeles and San Diego campuses.
Although the task group provided several recommendations for the Educational Policy Committee to consider, the committee wants to hear from other members of the campus community before deciding if Urbana’s policies on the academic calendar should change, and if so, what those changes should be.
“We’re genuinely interested in what people have to say,” Aminmansour said. “No one has any agenda in terms of wanting to do something and forcing it to happen. I think in the end, we’ll do what we feel is best for the campus. That’s the only goal. If that means changing the policies, then we’ll recommend that. If not, then we won’t.”
The changes that the committee is considering would apply only to the fall semester and would make it analogous to the spring semester. If the senate does approve changing the policies and therefore the calendar, changes would not go into effect until at least fall 2006, as the calendar for fall 2005 is already in place.
The task group’s suggested changes include starting classes for the fall semester on a Monday rather than a Wednesday. Under the current policy, although the first day that classes meet is a Wednesday, Monday classes are convened on that day to ensure that Monday classes meet a minimum of 14 sessions. Changing the start of the semester to Monday would eliminate the “treat-Wednesday-as-Monday” confusion.
Some faculty members and students have recommended decreasing the number of vacation days during Thanksgiving week and giving students a couple of days off earlier in the semester. Under current policies, classes do not meet during the week of Thanksgiving; however, some students have suggested that they would benefit more from a short break at mid-semester.
“Thanksgiving typically occurs either one or two weeks prior to the end of the semester,” Aminmansour said. “I’m not sure how helpful that weeklong break right before the end of the semester is for them. There’s a long stretch of time between Labor Day weekend and the Thanksgiving break, so we thought it would be beneficial for students to have a long weekend some time in October to break the semester up.”
Therefore, the task group has recommended that classes meet on the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, and those two vacation days be moved to the seventh or eighth week of the semester in October.
Bob Damrau, coordinator of the Office of the Senate, said, “At the moment, we are the only Big Ten school that gives students the whole week off at Thanksgiving. And we discovered that some students think that the campus is closed during that week,” when in fact, campus units are open and faculty and staff members available to them.
While some people have suggested that fall classes simply be started a week earlier, that is not a feasible solution, Aminmansour said.
“Prior to the start of the fall semester, there’s a weeklong orientation for teaching assistants, and there are numerous activities that would be affected. And we can’t expect faculty, staff and TAs to begin working before their contracts begin,” Aminmansour said. “There are a lot of issues that we need to take into consideration. It’s not just a matter of people wanting a break here or there.”
The task group’s recommendations also include scheduling the final day of classes on a Wednesday, followed by Reading Day on Thursday, with final exams beginning on Friday. Unlike the current schedule, final exams would not be held on Saturdays, which would give students an extra day to study.
Removing Saturday from the final-exam schedule also would reduce the number of final exam periods from 19 to 18, which concurs with the spring semester’s calendar. Accordingly, removing the Monday and Tuesday vacation days from the Thanksgiving break and rescheduling them for the middle of October would reduce the number of five-day instructional weeks from 13 to 12, although the number of instructional days would remain the same.
The week of Thanksgiving is “ground zero” for developing the academic calendar, Aminmansour said, and with the current calendar, the fall semester begins 13 weeks prior to Thanksgiving and final exams are scheduled to end on Saturday three weeks after Thanksgiving week.
If the suggested calendar changes might result in fall classes beginning before Aug. 22, under the new policy, classes would begin the Monday 12 weeks prior to Thanksgiving week and final examinations would end on the Friday four weeks after Thanksgiving week. This change also would eliminate any potential pay and contract conflicts for personnel who are paid monthly on the 16th.
Public Hearing to Discuss Academic Calendar
4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 7
Room 100 Gregory Hall
People who have suggestions or concerns about the calendar are invited to voice them at the hearing or contact the senate by e-mail at email@example.com.