Extension of semester now being discussed

At the faculty meeting on Feb 18., the faculty voted in a straw poll against looking into the possibility of extending the semester without shortening or eliminating Winter Study. This vote led to a survey about whether to consider undertaking a study of lengthening the semester including the possibility of cutting into Winter Study. This motion passed.

These polls resulted from discussion about the length of semesters at the December faculty.

Professor of Geosciences Reinhard Wobus, head of the Committee on Calendar and Scheduling, said, “It is unrealistic that the semester will be extended without cutting into Winter Study after the show of opposition by the faculty.”

Wobus cited financial concerns over the increased cost in room and board accompanying the extension as well as faculty concern about increasing teaching time by two weeks.

This plan would have most likely added a week onto the beginning of first semester and shortened Spring Break by a week. First semester would not have been bumped into January.

Wobus noted, “Williams has a 12-week calendar, which is one or two weeks shorter than many of the other schools in the region.”

He said, “The calendar committee works out schedules three years ahead of time so any changes would be at least that far away. Additionally, students chose to attend here with the expectation that there would be a Winter Study period. Any changes would not affect current students.”

The motion passed supported the idea of investigating the possibility of extending the semester into Winter Study. Professor of Psychology Laurie Heatherington, head of the Steering Committee, noted “Williams faculty are heavily involved in formulating the policies of the school.”

She said, “Not all faculty are opposed to Winter Study, it is a drawing card for admissions and alumni are in favor of it.”

The steering committee is “the committee on committees” and will consult with President of the College Harry Payne about the next step. The committee sets the agenda for faculty meetings but the next move will come from the administration.

Assistant Professor of English Alison Case, chair of the Committee on Winter Study, noted that faculty recognized that Winter Study is supposed to be “different but worthwhile. When this is the case, the cost is worthwhile; when it’s not, it’s not.”

Case said, “Winter Study periodically comes up for review and each time various remedies are adopted which are later rejected.” She cited the institution of the freshman seminars in the early 1990s as an example of a failed attempt at solving the problem of students not taking Winter Study seriously.

“First-year students were given a choice amongst five team-taught interdisciplinary classes which were intended to provide a serious introduction to Winter Study and counter the idea which the first-year students got from upperclass students that Winter Study is a period solely for drinking and hanging out with friends.

“First-years were so resentful about not being allowed to choose from the same classes as everyone else they made it obvious that they did not want to be in the classes. This unwillingness made the professors sullen and the entire project had to be canceled,” Case said. “Failures like this increase the chance that the next time it comes up for review, Winter Study will be abolished.”

Case added, “There is an atmosphere dominant in Winter Study in which students who do work are chumps, which is not an issue during the regular semesters.”

Professor of Astronomy Karen Kwitter is in favor of considering abolishing Winter Study. “I understand the reasons and purpose but it certainly is not sacred,” she said. “While many students view Winter Study as a time to relieve pressure, this is not the case for faculty. Students can take a class without caring about it but for professors it’s not possible to teach half-heartedly.”

Kwitter said, “I have never had a satisfactory experience teaching a Winter Study class because student effort does not equal faculty effort.”

Professor of English Lawrence Raab said, “Winter Study is the least academically defensible aspect of our curriculum.” He supports the possibility of using the time to extend the semester. “I don’t think Winter Study works. It works a lot less than when I came 20 years ago. I see it as a frivolous time.”

The notion that Winter Study is not a worthwhile experience finds strong resistance amongst students. Joe Rogers ’00, said, “Drinking and meeting new people is a part of Winter Study for me but my class also is very important. I took the Stock Market class and we went to New York and met with traders, had a luncheon at Goldman-Sachs and learned a lot.”

Rogers added, “My friend in the class thought he wanted to major in political science but after the trip, he changed to economics. Also, when some students saw the world of investment bankers first hand, they realized that wasn’t what they wanted to do with their lives. None of that could have happened during the regular semester.”

Kristina Gehrman ‘ 00 was more critical of the Winter Study establishment. She said “for the most part, Winter Study classes are a joke and profs hate them.” Despite her criticism, Gehrman opposes abolishing Winter Study. “The period offers great potential for different but valuable educational experiences. I spent this January in India and would willingly exchange that experience for all my others at Williams.”

Joshua White ‘01, also sees many negative aspects of Winter Study. He noted “some classes are an embarrasement . Playing video games, for many people is, but should not be, the dominant activity of Winter Study.” Despite this negative view, White does not see the solution lying in abolishing Winter Study. He said “there are such a wide range of classes. The bar should be raised for them all.”