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Office of the University Senate

Ad Hoc Calendar Committee Report


(1991 - Verzar Report)

May 30, l991


The Charge: In January l991, at the request of President Gee, an Ad Hoc Calendar Committee was appointed jointly by the Senate Steering Committee and the Office of Academic Affairs. It was charged to

* review the academic calendar in use at Ohio State

* consider the advantages and disadvantages of alternative calendars

* initiate broad campus-wide discussion of the issues

* recommend to the Office of Academic Affairs and the Senate if a change in calendar is desirable, and if so, to recommend a timetable for implementation of this new calendar.

The Committee was asked to make its findings by June l991. What is presented here is a report of its activities with the recommendation for a feasibility study of the conversion to early semesters or trimesters--a study to be initiated next academic year.

A Brief History of the Issue at Ohio State: The Ohio State University converted from semesters to quarters in 1922 after making the decision to change in 1918. During the '70s and '80s, the conversion back to semesters was discussed by various University Calendar Committees, and faculty and student opinion polls were taken in '75,'77, and '86. When the University decided to revise the Undergraduate General Education Requirements, the Provost and the President jointly decided not to address a change in calendar at the same time. Now, at the request of President Gee, this issue has come to the forefront once again. In addition, a strong endorsement for a change to semesters was submitted by the Council of Graduate Students in a resolution to President Gee in the Autumn of l990. The Committee was told by the Undergraduate Student Government representative that in a recent poll of 1500 undergraduates, a majority (ca. 79%) still favors the quarter system. Successive polls of the faculty from l975 through l991 show an increasing and now absolute majority (ca. 60%) favoring either a semester or trimester calendar.

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The Work of the Calendar Committee: This Ad Hoc Calendar Committee, consisting of six faculty, three deans, the University Registrar, the Associate Treasurer, undergraduate, graduate, and professional student representatives, and an associate provost as liaison to the Office of Academic Affairs, began to meet biweekly at the end of January l991. At its first meeting the Committee decided it would consider the change to early semesters or trimesters, comparing the educational/academic, administrative, and economic merits of the quarter versus the semester system for our University. At all times in the discussion, the concept of change was tied to questions of feasibility for such a change at this time for The Ohio State University. The Committee decided to study other universities which had changed recently by reading their written reports and by initiating discussions with faculty and administrators at those institutions. Through the Office of the Registrar we received written reports from several comparable, large research universities which have recently converted or are in the process of converting (UC Berkeley in l983, Michigan State University in l992), and from some which, after reviewing the issue, decided not to convert (Northwestern and the University of Minnesota). We also heard reports of recent conversions at Miami University and Penn State University, and from faculty at Berkeley, MSU, Penn State, and Miami about their responses to the semester system at those institutions. Our review of AAU institutions (44 on semesters, 13 on quarters), of Ohio's state-assisted universities (4 on semesters, 8 on quarters), and the top 20 transfer student "feeder" schools for Ohio State University (6 on semesters, 14 on quarters), makes clear a national trend toward the semester system for large research universities (Appendix 1).

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In its discussions the Committee reviewed various lists of guidelines for evaluating the comparative advantages and disadvantages of one system over another, such as the one which the l985 OSU Calendar Committee had drawn up (Appendix 2). These guidelines divide the issues considered into academic, economic, and administrative areas. The Committee also addressed the relationship of quarters vs. semesters to faculty research and teaching load, and to the recent implementation of our new undergraduate general education curriculum (GEC), and especially to the undergraduate pre-professional programs. The Committee invited several colleagues to address its issues. Dr. Donald Good, Assistant Dean and College Secretary for the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, and Associate Provost Robert Arnold spoke to the GEC in relation to a conversion to semesters. President Gordon Gee spoke to questions of faculty research leaves and teaching load; to the timing and cost in faculty effort for the conversion; and to the financial cost for the University at this time. A faculty group of senators from the Social Sciences, led by Professor Richard Gunther, met with the Committee and submitted a report advocating the retention of quarters on administrative, economic, and educational grounds, and particularly for reasons of greater facility in allowing for research leaves at departmental discretion (SRAs).

Academic Affairs submitted a series of questions on calendar conversion to the Polimetrics Lab Telephone Poll which sampled a reasonably large number of faculty (315) and staff (350). Its results, which are attached, indicate a clear trend of the faculty toward favoring semesters: from 24% in l975 to 54% in l991. One of the reasons seems to be that many more of the present faculty (81%) have experienced the semester system before coming to the Ohio State University (Appendix 3).

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Findings of the Committee:

1. Graduate Education

At the invitation of the Curriculum Committee of the Council on Research and Graduate Studies, the chair of our Committee discussed the quarters versus semesters issue with that committee. The Ad Hoc Calendar Committee also received the resolution advocating a change to semesters submitted to President Gee in Fall l990 by the Council of Graduate Students, which was based on a two-thirds vote of a representative group of graduate students in favor of semesters. It also heard from the Graduate Student Council through its representative on the Committee and from Luke Evans, the past president and member of the Graduate Student Council's ad hoc calendar committee. The primary reason for advocating change to a semester calendar for graduate education at The Ohio State University is a pedagogical one, to provide time for more in-depth study, which students feel would lead to a higher quality graduate education and research experience. They feel that the semester system is more conducive to in-depth research projects in all fields and to the writing of research papers. Temporary absences (due to illness, cultural/religious holidays, and conference visits) are easier to accommodate in a semester system. At the present time several departments, in order to allow for longer periods of research in seminars, have resorted to offering two-quarter seminars; however, this creates difficult scheduling problems for students, faculty, and departments.

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2. Undergraduate Education and Degree Programs

The Calendar Committee devoted a great deal of attention to effects of a calendar change upon undergraduate education. Dr. Donald Good testified concerning the impact of a calendar change on the GEC. It also heard from undergraduate student government through its representative on the Committee. A poll conducted by USG at the time of its elections produced a 75% majority in favor of retaining the quarter system. While full-time undergraduates on the quarter system traditionally take a minimum of three five-credit courses per quarter (a minimum of nine courses and 45 quarter-credits during the three-quarter academic year), undergraduates on the semester system take 5 three- or 4 four-semester-credit courses per semester (8-10 courses and 30-32 semester-credits per academic year). Five-credit courses on the quarter system which have traditionally met for 4 or 5 hours per week for 10 weeks would change to 3- or 4- credit courses which would meet 3 or 4 hours per week for 14 or 15 weeks in the semester system. Some Committee members think that this allows for more independent study time for students and more time for projects, papers, and laboratory work than in the quarter system. Also, some Committee members think that in the semester system, students have less choice of courses but more opportunity for in-depth study per course, and that it is a better system pedagogically. Others argue that taking 5 courses per semester instead of 3 per quarter does not give time for more in-depth study per course. At the departmental or program level, two rather than three different courses would be offered so that the total course listings would be expected to decrease. On a full course-load then, students would take a similar total number of courses (9 vs 8 or 10) on either system. The quarter system is considered more flexible for transfer students. About 40% of the total Ohio and non-Ohio transfers come from ten institutions. The majority of these institutions are on the quarter system.

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3. General Education Curriculum

Dr. Donald Good, College Secretary of Arts and Sciences and coordinator for the new GEC requirements, and Dr. Robert Arnold, Associate Provost for Curriculum, see difficulty in the timing for the calendar conversion, because the faculty has just gone through conversion to the GEC, a change which has not yet been fully implemented. Dr. Good was concerned not only about a potential one-third reduction in numbers of courses when schools convert from quarters to semesters, but primarily about the difficulty in adjusting each major and each pre-professional degree program to semesters which allow less flexibility and fewer courses overall for cognates or courses in the major. Members of the Committee were also concerned about being able to profit from a comparison with the experiences and methods of conversion at other universities. For example, Berkeley and MSU both tend to have 3- or 4-quarter credit courses rather than 5-credit courses as we do on the quarter system. Thus, their conversion model was "simpler". MSU has decided to revise their General Education Curriculum at the same time as the conversion to semesters. However, this massive undertaking has apparently created other practical problems, because insufficient time (two years) has been allowed for the conversion.

4. Administrative Considerations

Having only two terms with two breaks and a third summer term is a clear saving of time, effort, and money for all administrative units, although conversion would effect a one-time cost. Students would also be able to compete for summer jobs earlier than under the present quarter system which ends much later than the normal semester/trimester calendar.

5. Semester Type and Length

Two types of semester calendars seem best suited to a large public research university:

a. An early-semester calendar with a semester which begins in late August and ends before Christmas, and a second semester starting in early January and ending in early May. The semester length would be 15 weeks of classes and one week of study days and exams per semester. An additional shorter summer term would have to be scheduled.

b. The trimester calendar with a semester which begins after Labor Day and ends before Christmas, and the second semester beginning in early January and finishing at the end of April. The semester length would be 14 weeks of classes with one week of study days and exams. A summer semester would mean that the University was in session for 45 weeks per year.

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6. Economic Considerations

a. Relationship to State Subsidy

The State Subsidy model must be considered because currently only student FTEs for Summer and Fall quarters are counted. The State subsidy model is suited to either a quarter or a semester calendar. The main unresolved issue is what would be the effect of a change to the semester system on summer quarter FTE enrollment. A summer term should be designed to allow nontraditional students, who are a substantial clientele during summer quarter, to enroll between mid-June and mid-August.

b. Instructional Space

The Berkeley report indicates the need for additional mid-sized classroom space (capacity of ca. 50) by about 10-15%. The report encourages a four-day week pattern which increases space needs. A feasibility study would have to address this issue, as well as the sufficiency of laboratory space. MSU has developed a computer program to attempt to examine these potential space needs, registration problems, and coordination problems among degree programs.

c. Faculty Cost

A study must be done of the "in kind" cost of faculty time to redesign all courses, majors, and degree programs by reducing the total number of courses, through combining, merging, eliminating and redesigning present offerings. This effort needs to be balanced against the loss of research and teaching time during conversion.

7. The Sentiment of the Faculty:

The response to a poll of 10% of the faculty administered through the University's Polimetrics Lab in Winter Quarter l991 showed that 81% of the faculty had been at semester schools at some point in their career or studies, and that 56% were in favor of semesters (11.7% traditional, 42.9% early, 1.3% other). Over 70% would approve a change if OSU were to adopt an early- semester system (Appendix 3). Because this poll was taken as the Committee began its deliberations, several committee members felt that faculty opinion expressed in this poll was based upon the perhaps erroneous assumptions of what their teaching loads would be under a semester calendar. We discussed at length whether to develop another faculty poll or to hold open hearings but decided that too many issues were still insufficiently clear to have a fruitful discussion or an informed vote. Rather, the Committee recommends that models be developed and examined which take into account curricular, research, administrative, and economic issues.

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8. Impact of the Conversion to Semesters on Faculty Research and Teaching-Load

Because the dual mission of The Ohio State University as a public institution is to teach a very large undergraduate student body in a multitude of liberal arts and pre-professional colleges, and to function as the flagship research university of the State of Ohio, the Committee concerned itself with the impact of conversion on faculty teaching load and research leaves (SRAs and Sabbaticals/Professional Leaves). The Committee cautions that a move to semesters should not be made without reviewing the impact of adopting a faculty-teaching-load commensurate with that of other major research universities (which varies considerably from field to field). Michigan State University has been able to move to such a teaching load by combining the conversion of the calendar with changes in the undergraduate curriculum. Adjustments of credit hours and numbers of courses offered in the conversion to semesters would need to take research level teaching assignments into account. This Committee feels strongly that this must be done for Ohio State to be fully competitive in faculty recruitment and retention.

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9. Summary and Recommendations

In a final vote of the Committee, nine members found conversion to semesters academically desirable. Five of those nine also think it is practical at this time; four think it is impractical at this time, and five find it academically neutral but impractical. Thus, nine members found conversion impractical at this time. Therefore, this strong academic endorsement of the Committee on the one hand, combined with serious reservations about the current practicality of a change on the other hand, leads us to recommend that a serious analysis be undertaken before implementation of a change be considered, and that additional data be gathered and detailed scenarios be developed, beyond what this Committee was able to collect and develop in the brief time of its existence. Alternative models should spell out consequences for class size, time of day scheduling, total numbers of course offerings, and faculty teaching load. This would include gathering additional information from: a) Universities which have made the switch: Transition costs and effects on enrollment, subsidy income, faculty resarch time, summer calendar, and summer enrollment would be particularly sought. b) Departments and Colleges: These should be asked to outline contingency plans for their course offerings, faculty teaching loads, and budget, and to outline plans to make a transition, including redefining all courses, and course prerequisites, and all major programs. c) Colleges and the "Reagan Committee": These should be asked for a plan to redefine all GeneralEducation Requirements in terms of new courses. d) The Office of the Registrar: This office should plan to make necessary administrative changes and estimate savings resulting from reducing the numbers of registrations each year. e) Faculty: Once the outline of a plan is in and the major consequences of a transition can be defined, faculty should be consulted to see whether they consider a change desirable under realistic conditions. f) Students: Student opinion should also be solicited. The strong academic endorsement of semesters by the faculty polled in the recent Polimetrics Poll and the strong sentiment in favor of semesters by the Council of Graduate Students is indicative of a new climate at The Ohio State University. But because of the recent conversion of the General Education Curriculum, the dual mission of the University, and considerations of financial cost, the feasibility and practicality of the conversion to semesters must be carefully studied before an informed faculty can deliberate on this fundamental change.

The Committee recommends that the Office of Academic Affairs, the Office of the Vice President for Finance, and the Office of Business and Administration administer and fund a feasibility study regarding a calendar change to semesters or trimesters. Members of this Committee would be willing to continue to serve as a Task Force, or Oversight Committee, if the administration so desired. Attachments: Appendices 1. Calendars of other universities 2. l985 Issues to consider on a calendar change 3. Polimetrics Poll

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MEMBERSHIP: Carol A. Anderson, College of Nursing; Dean John O. Riedl, Dean & Director Ohio State Mansfield Campus; Professor Stephen Buser, College of Business; Mr. Alvin C. Rodack Office of the Treasurer; Charles E. Corbato, Associate Provost, Office of Academic Affairs; Mr. R. Eugene Schuster, University Registrar; Mr. Douglas Beals Interprofessional Student Council; Professor Steven S. Fink, Department of English; Professor David L. Forster, Dept. of Agricultural Economics; Mr. Peter Vandeventer, Council of Graduate Students; Professor Kenneth R. Howey , Department of Educational Policy; Professor Christine B. Verzar, Department of History of Art, Chair, Ad Hoc Calendar Cte.; Assoc. Prof. Elizabeth Menaghan, Department of Sociology; Mr. Michael Willingham, Undergraduate Student Govt.; Assistant Dean Thomas L. Minnick, University College.

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