Harvard is considering changing its academic calendar (which currently features two semesters with fall exams in January) to something much more like Williams’, including a Winter Study-like period called J-term.

Some Ephs make an appearence in the article.

While students can choose to enroll in the extra four weeks at MIT, at Williams College, Winter Study is mandatory. According to James G. Kolesar, director of Public Affairs at Williams College, every student is required to enroll in a course during the Winter Study period. All Winter Study courses are graded on a pass-fail system and university administrators, alumni or even individuals not affiliated with Williams College may teach courses, as long as a faculty sponsor is present.

“A typical class would meet three times a week for two hours each,” Kolesar says. “A typical teaching load [for professors] is two courses per semester, and one winter study every other year.”

Students at Williams say the courses are both academically and socially rewarding. “I’ve taken a course on astronomy, that I would have never taken, and also Congolese dance,” says Ilunga Kalala, a senior and co-president of the College Council at Williams. “The Winter Study period is a great opportunity where you really get to meet the students around you.”

So true. Although the participants in the CGLC that is EphBlog disagree on many things, I don’t know of a single person who thinks that the College would be better off without Winter Study.

But while students point to the substantial coursework, Kolesar says that many faculty members feel that students are not working hard enough during Winter Study.

“The faculty have mixed feelings about it,” he says. “Many students don’t put as much effort into the Winter Study courses…it’s been discussed as to whether the courses should be graded.”

Arrrgh! Never blame the students. Always blame the teacher. If the students in a class that I am teaching are not working hard enough then, 99 times out of 100, it is my fault, either because of the way that I have designed the class or the way that I have run it.

Moreover, to the extent that this is a problem, there is a simple, largely costless solution: Make the assignments completed during Winter Study public, as I have argued in the case of 99’s. Students will put forth a lot more effort if they know that their work will be in the public domain.

Student readers are also encouraged to send in their nominees for biggest Winter Study gut so that we can mock it relentlessly and, one hopes, thereby shame the gut-giver into taking his responsibilities as a teacher more seriously next year.

Harvard-watchers will love many of the quotes in the article, especially:

“I would say that [the] most critical issue is whether [the J-term] will be something serious or something Mickey Mouse,” says Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield ’53. “I feel that it will greatly be the latter. Harvard is already easy enough. We don’t need more of this.”

Mansfield has not been in favor of any change at Harvard for 30+ years. (Whether or not he has been right in that stance is another question.)

Professor of the History of Science Everett I. Mendelsohn says students could get bogged down with all the choices.

“My gut feeling is that the variety of potentials is so great that most people will not do anything,” he says.

Yeah, that’s it. Stupid Harvard students can’t handle choices.

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