In 2019-2020 Pacific University will change its undergraduate academic calendar by cutting Winter Term, moving up the start date for spring term and implementing a three-week-long term in May, during which students will be able to take a full credit course.
According to Sarah Phillips, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, informal talks surrounding a potential calendar change within the University have been going on for years, but became more legitimate and focused after last year’s weather during the two-week-long Winter Term caused a number of classes to be canceled. An official task force, headed by Pacific faculty members, was started a year and a half ago to examine and compare Pacific’s current calendar system to those from other schools in the conference.
“The task force didn’t come to any real strong conclusion that one calendar was better than the other,” Phillips said. “They came to the conclusion that every calendar has pros and cons.”
According to the task force’s official report, Pacific’s calendar with Winter Term lacked cost efficiency, as nearly a third of the classes offered were being taught by adjunct faculty, and damaged student retention rates, with only a small number of students actually enrolling in the maximum two credit courses. The task force also interviewed students and polled faculty members regarding the calendar in an attempt to have voices from all facets of campus heard and represented.
“What we learned is students want to be able to take a four credit class in that short term, as do faculty,” Phillips said. “And I think the reason for that is it’s a chance to have a different type of relationship between the students and faculty. When you see each other every day, you can teach in a different way. That relationship between professors and their students is unique to Pacific, that’s what we do.”
Listed as additional positives in the task force’s official report, for the removal of Winter Term and implementation of a May Term, included the potential for better weather and thus less likelihood of class cancellations and reduced costs for air fare and travel. After compiling information and statistics gathered from the task force, along with the concerns and opinions voiced by students and faculty members, an official proposal to look at the calendar was submitted this fall.
“We started by holding meetings to discuss the proposed calendar, shopped it around to all of the groups on campus and talked to the Undergraduate Student Senate,” Phillips said. “The final decision was made by President Hallick, with help from the President’s Cabinet, the Provost Council and all the deans of the different colleges.”
With the creation of the new May Term, Pacific will also be lowering its yearly credit cap in 2019-2020 from a maximum 38 credits to a maximum 36 credits a year. According to Philips, the new credit cap will bring Pacific more in line with other schools in the conference.
Phillips said the vast majority of students at Pacific very rarely go over the current credit cap at 38. However, there are plans to have a grandfathering system in place for students who are caught in the middle of the calendar change and who are relying on heavier credit workloads to graduate on time.
“The couple of students who really do max out the current credit cap right now, and go 18 credits in the fall, 18 credits in the spring and 2 credits in the winter, would not be able to do that with the new calendar,” Phillips said. “For that small number of students who are here when the calendar changes, and who have relied on that credit load in the past, we will work out a method to grandfather them in, so they don’t get hurt.”
According to Phillips a typical workload under the new calendar will look similar to a 16-16-4 model, 16 credits in the fall, 16 credits in the spring and four credits during the May Term.
Although there has been no final decision made on whether the May Term will be mandatory, Phillips said she is considering making the May Term be required for all first year students. The calendar change has also sparked discussions surrounding commencement and graduation dates.
“We’re talking about having an earlier graduation,” Phillips said. “The idea being that, when you’re a senior, it is often to your benefit to get out of school a term early to look for work. It puts you ahead of others and gives you a head start.”
Faculty members at Pacific will teach during the May Term as a part of their regular teaching loads, Phillips said. Departments and faculty members will still being responsible for determining their own curricula and courses to offer during the shortened term.
“They will be working and thinking about what will be best for our students to have in that May Term and what will help them learn the most,” Phillips said. “Out of the College of Arts and Sciences office we will try and do some small grants to help faculty develop new courses that can work in there.”
Phillips is hopeful this calendar change for undergraduates will excite students and spark new and innovative ways for learning and development.
“I think the best thing for students is they will be able to take a full credit course if they want to,” Phillips said. “I think there is less likelihood of it being cancelled due to weather, and that was a real problem for students who relied on those credits in the past. The chance to spend time with a professor in that close working relationship is really important to the type of education we do here at Pacific.”