Friday, November 16

Faculty grills panel about semester switch


Critics of UCLA’s proposed switch to a semester system
voiced their misgivings Wednesday to representatives from
universities that have already made the conversion.

The second such town hall meeting of the year began with members
of peer universities sharing experiences of their
universities’ transition between academic calendars.

The 50 faculty in attendance then peppered the panel with
questions, the vast majority of them critical of UCLA’s
possible calendar change.

While open to all members of the UCLA community, the meeting was
made up almost exclusively of faculty.

Peter Zetterberg and Laura Coffin Koch of the University of
Minnesota described Minnesota’s conversion from quarters to
semesters in 1999.

Zetterberg, who was the conversion coordinator during the
four-year process, detailed the chronology of Minnesota’s
conversion, bringing up various issues they dealt with along the
way.

“Is it more or less? Better or worse? In truth, it’s
different,” Zetterberg said, adding there is no concrete data
to show one system facilitates better research or education.

Catherine Koshland, chairwoman of Berkeley’s Academic Senate,
followed with her own comments, addressing the fewer courses,
decreased variety and other feared limitations of semester
systems.

“I think I can speak for the entire faculty when I say we
would love it if UCLA went to semesters,” Koshland said.

Being on the same calendar would create a synergy such that
professors and students would be able to spend time at both
universities, she said.

Despite the guests’ insistence that their switch to
semesters was a decision they are happy with, the UCLA faculty were
not convinced.

Numerous professors asked how administrators were able to keep
faculty workload consistent among individuals, since workload at
semester-system colleges is evaluated on a departmental level
instead of individually. Faculty were worried that some professors
might not work as much, putting a burden on others to keep the
departmental level up.

Koshland simply said the issues “worked themselves
out.”

One UCLA professor said he worked at a semester school and found
the quarter system to be “vastly superior,” saying the
fewer number of courses doesn’t offer the level of
specificity a quarter system does. Another said she is afraid that
faculty morale would be crushed as many departments have
overwhelmingly expressed opposition to a conversion.

Regarding how students adapted to the change, Zetterberg said
they simply took it in stride.

“Students clearly paid attention to what we were doing,
but there was no panic,” he said.

Dean Worth, now retired, started teaching Slavic languages at
UCLA in 1957 and said he didn’t really notice a difference
when UCLA converted from quarters to semesters in 1966. Now,
however, he favors a switch back to semesters.

“I don’t think there’s enough time in my field
to teach students enough so they can do something of their
own,” Worth said.

A third town hall meeting is scheduled for May 1. The Academic
Senate’s final recommendations are due by the end of spring
quarter.

For more info visit the Academic Senate’s Web site at
www.senate.ucla.edu.

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