The Record‘s recent article on the topic of calendar changes — three courses a semester and no Winter Study — is extremely professional. Indeed, no recent article better demonstrates the Record’s resurgence. Yet, we still have questions! (Previous discussion here.)

1) Is there a single other school in the country which is decreasing its course requirements? I can’t find one. Doesn’t that make it really weird that we are doing this? I continue to believe that it is a bad idea. Any wagers on whether or not the faculty will fight back tomorrow?

2) Can we stop with the fiction that students won’t be back on campus?

These changes will take effect whether or not the College resumes in-person classes in the fall; Mandel has set a deadline of July 1 to determine whether or not classes will be held on campus. In an interview with the Record, Mandel cited the burden that students feel with remote learning as a reason to reduce the number of required courses.

It is true that July 1 is the deadline. But every report like this should mention that dozens of elite schools have announced that they will have students on campus and none are indicating that they won’t. The reason this matters so much is that, as best I can tell, the main justification for three courses is that the flexibility is needed if students are taking classes from home. But that will never happen! I, and every other observer, am happy to guarantee that students will be back. Planning for a scenario in which they won’t is like planning for an October blizzard. Not impossible, but also not really worth planning for.

3) Some Ephblog commentators highlighted this justification last week:

She also noted her belief that, if students are on campus, the changes could minimize the number of classrooms in use and therefore reduce COVID-19 spread. However, she clarified that students will still have the option to take more than three courses if they wish.

This is interesting! More reporting, please. My normie friends — Ephs who don’t read EphBlog and have children enrolled — find this weird. (Perhaps they want four classes for their $75,000!) Why not just use the classrooms from 7:00 AM till 10:00 PM? I don’t really have a sense of how many classrooms there are, how fully they are used, and how things would work with social distancing. Yet I know that Williams has been building, Building, BUILDING for decades, with no meaningful increase in enrollment. There is a lot of unused classroom space . . .

Even in the event that classes resume on-campus in the fall, Mandel believes that a reduction in the required number of courses will lower the number of classrooms in use and therefore assist in social distancing, even though students have the option to take four classes.

More reporting, please. And some more challenging of the Administration’s story line.

4) As we predicted, students don’t like this plan.

In a Wednesday Record survey of approximately 550 non-seniors, which received 294 responses, 86 percent of respondents reported that, if the fall semester were on campus, they would prefer to take four classes rather than three.

Is this Mandel’s Hank Payne moment? If student’s don’t want a three course semester, then why go down this path? And won’t the faculty object? Note the (key?) role played by faculty in shooting down the trimester plan.

Faculty feedback was ultimately the most impactful to Mandel, she said. “It was feedback from the faculty meeting … which made us realize there was an easier way to do what we were hoping to achieve with the three [semester] plan,” Mandel said. “I think what we learned about the various versions of the three [semester] plan was that it was making things hopelessly complicated, so we went to a system which would be simpler to understand and simpler to implement.”

In the faculty meeting on the trimester and three-semester plans, numerous faculty raised concerns that focused in large part around course requirements and scheduling. Chair of Mathematics and Statistics Richard de Veaux expressed relief that the administration decided against a three-term plan. “I am very relieved that the trimester system is off the table,” he said. “I had already raised logistic[al] issues at the faculty meeting that pointed out the problems that departments with scaffolded courses like Math with 130, 140, 150 and languages would have with the trimester system.” Multiple departments expressed concern that what de Veaux refers to as “scaffolded courses,” or courses that are sequential in nature and are only offered in a chronological order, could have been hampered by a three-term system.

Professor of Chinese Chris Nugent, who is also Chair of the CPC, expressed similar sentiments. “A three-term structure would introduce different challenges [to Chinese], such as deciding in which terms to offer the two halves of a year-long course or how to repeat parts of courses to allow all students who so desired to take these courses,” he said. “Because all units at the College have designed their curricula around our usual two-semester structure, I think we were confident that sticking to this would be the most fair option across the board and introduce the fewest unexpected challenges.”

How did this crazy trimester plan ever get to a faculty meeting in the first place? A competent president figures out, ahead of time, what is possible and what is not. Sometimes — once or twice in a presidency — you role the dice on a close call which you care deeply about. But that is not this. Mandel — and her advisers — should have figured out the problems with the trimester plan ahead of time. It should never have come before the faculty, especially since it is hard to see what advantages it offers.

Will it be the same with 3-0-3? Informed commentary welcome. If I were a faculty member, I would not like this.

Again, read the whole article. It is simply excellent. I am sorry I lack the energy to go through more highlights.

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