Faculty strive to balance semester length, coursework

Liz Bogut

Heading into the second week of the second semester, University faculty members look back with mixed reactions about teaching under the longer, 15-week academic term.
The University’s shift to semesters made it more difficult for faculty members to prepare for classes, but also provided more time — and therefore less pressure — for students and professors to complete coursework than under the old nine-week quarter system.
For faculty members, pressure was high before the start of fall session to make the transition to semesters as smooth as possible.
“It took a tremendous amount of time for us to prepare for semesters. We had to make sure the students would not be inconvenienced,” said Naresh Jain, department head of the school of mathematics.
Lisa Disch, a political science professor, approached preparing for the new semester as if starting from scratch.
“We had to pretend that we were creating the curriculum anew, rather than merely convert it to a semester system,” Disch said.
Although faculty members reconstructed their courses to fit the semester system, there was still the problem of balancing an appropriate amount of coursework over a longer period.
Disch said she made the mistake of trying to cover too much last semester and has cut down the reading in her courses this spring.
Semester schedules inconvenienced students as well as professors. Where fall semester has 16 weeks, spring consists of 17 weeks, a fact Disch said was absurd.
A later fall session exam week and an earlier spring session exam week also altered the way students and faculty members scheduled their lives around school.
“Some students even had finals on the 23rd (of December),” said Rachel Martin, a history professor. “I think that was really hard for them, especially for those who had to go out of town.”
Some professors creatively dealt with semester scheduling challenges. Martin divided her classes into two parts to try and break down the semester into manageable chunks for the students.
“The University really stressed to faculty that the work load should be stretched out over the semester,” Martin said.
Some professors took the extra time during semesters to become better acquainted with their students. Margaret Demmessie, an academic adviser for the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, said she worked more closely with her students in the transition.
Others saw semesters as a chance to have more time set aside for class work.
“I like being able to have more time and flexibility with my classes. There is much less pressure to cover the material,” Disch said.

Liz Bogut covers faculty and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at 627-4070 x3225.