Sunday, October 22

Quarter system better for students and faculty

Bruins can take a wider variety of classes, while professors can teach their specialties


Nhat Bui


A brief glimpse into how the UCLA calendar has changed throughout the decades
"¢bull;1966: All UCs switch to a year-round quarter system.
"¢bull;1969: Because of financial issues, summer quarter is dropped.
"¢bull;1978: UCLA School of Law switches back to semester system.
"¢bull;1983: UC Berkeley switches back to semester system.
"¢bull;1987: UCLA School of Medicine switches back to semester system.
"¢bull;2004: UC Merced begins with semester system.
SOURCE: UCLA Academic Senate


UCLA's history of debating quarters versus semesters
"¢bull;1971: Faculty poll taken. Majority want semester system, but no change is made because of other issues.
"¢bull;1975-1977: Another poll says faculty favor semester system while students prefer quarter system, but no change is made.
"¢bull;1985: UCLA considers semester system, but faculty votes to keep quarter system.
"¢bull;1990: UCLA professional schools are given flexibility for academic-calendar
"¢bull;1994: Switch to semester system is considered as a cost-saving mechanism, but analysis is inconclusive on whether there would be any savings.
"¢bull;2001-2002: Switch to semester system is considered, but faculty decides against it.
SOURCE: UCLA Academic Senate

It has always been odd to start school a month later than friends who attend semester-system schools.

And the reason we do this, the nontraditional quarter system, has been a topic of debate since it was instituted in the late 1960s.

The last time UCLA seriously considered switching back to the semester system was 2002, and it will inevitably be brought up again.

Less than 15 percent of schools have the quarter system, according to Judith Smith, vice provost for undergraduate education.

And the disadvantages of this system are clear. Most study-abroad programs and summer internships are geared for the semester system, each professor has a third less time to teach an academic topic, administrative tasks are increased for everyone because we register for classes three times a year instead of two, and complex subject areas are often too much to teach in one single quarter (but not enough to stretch into two).

But when it comes down to it, the quarter system’s advantages are much more important for students and faculty.

First of all, having three grading periods per school year instead of two means more classes. Quarter-system students normally take three to four classes per quarter while semester students tend to take four to five classes per grading period. On average, quarter-system students take six more classes than semester-system students in their undergraduate careers.

This means we, on the quarter system, can comfortably take more classes for interest (ones that do not meet requirements for graduation) in more departments, allowing us to graduate with knowledge in more fields.

Secondly, it also allows professors to teach their specialties instead of just curriculum requirements.

UCLA can get away with teaching electives, such as sport psychology, arms control and international security or (literary) fictions of Cold War, because it is much easier for professors to teach one quarter of their specialty than one semester when they have other teaching requirements, like teaching intro classes.

A comparison of UCLA and UC Berkeley’s class offerings in psychology, English and political science shows that UCLA offers significantly more courses in each department (61 percent, 37 percent and 43 percent more, respectively).

So not only do quarter-system students get to take more classes, but we also have a wider array of classes to choose from.

Thirdly, the quarter system’s 10-week schedule is better for learning. It is pretty normal to expect midterms Week 3 through Week 8 of each quarter.

Because we are always on our feet during the quarter, we do not fall into academic lulls. And because there are fewer lectures in a period, each class is much more valuable on the quarter system, and skipping a class hurts students more. While this by no means says we don’t skip classes, it means it is indeed harder to do.

Another advantage the quarter system offers is that faculty can take a period off of teaching much more easily to focus on their research. This becomes much more difficult on the semester system.

According to Raymond Knapp, who was the Undergraduate Council chair when UCLA last debated switching calendars, this gives UCLA an advantage in hiring faculty. Our faculty’s salaries are relatively low compared to institutions of our caliber, and the cost of living in Los Angeles is high.

But faculty can take a quarter off to focus on their research, fitting their annual teaching requirements into two quarters, according to Robert Kirsner, professor of Dutch and Afrikaans.

Knapp, who is currently the chair of the College Faculty Executive Committee, admits there are problems in the quarter system but believes they can be solved while retaining our calendar.

Some of these problems are not easily fixable: Fitting the quarter system to start in August and end in May for summer internships and study-abroad purposes does not seem feasible.

But the Education Abroad Program offers many programs for quarter students to study abroad, and internships friendly to the quarter system can be found through BruinView.

There are issues that can be discussed and solved.

Currently, the UC quarter does not have a reading period that many semester schools, including UC Berkeley, have between the end of classes and the start of exams. This is something some have advocated for because it gives students time to think about and research final projects and paper assignments.

It would also give students time to further learn and internalize class material and could easily be added with some shifting of the calendar. I doubt many people would be opposed to starting in the middle of September versus the end, because that would still be a late start relative to other schools in the nation.

While this debate is probably not something faculty members are thinking about in the middle of the UC budget’s Great Depression, the academic calendar debate is one that recurs every few years.

Many professors at the university are tired of the recurring debate, citing the difficulty of changing calendars and rewriting curriculums. But it’s an issue worth discussing because UCLA’s needs are dynamic and changing.

The semester system may be right one day in the future, but as for now, the administration should keep UCLA on the quarter system. Tweaking the schedule to incorporate a reading period is also something to consider.

Other than that, UCLA’s quarter system is as good as it gets, and we as students have a better academic experience because of it.

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  • Joe Semester

    This article is a load of Bull Shit. Having been on the QTr system for a year, after three years on semester, I feel it’s a putrid design taking away from learning, pits students dishonestly against eachother, and places profit over education.

    It drives people to cheat, as not everyone works well under unacceptable pressure, and this article is an obvious nod to those with personal interests. To that, Asad, your apparent brown nosing doesn’t fool anyone: take your hands out of the honey pot, and wake up to justice.

    Breaks shouldn’t solely accommodate professors to facilitate their research, but student recovery – they’re important too. Unlike semesters, quarters grant no down time, and unrealistically keep pushing students until they crack. That you didn’t even mention them is shameful, and consistent with this article’s glaring bias.

    I, and many others, would prefer to graduate having taken six less courses, than going insane. This entire system is a hack, designed to bringm’ in and spit em’ out, and is putting quantity over quality – never a smart idea.

    But, I’m just a student or a lowly pawn of this system, and not someone who faculty considers worth noting. In the end, money is god, I’m just a messenger, and you’re their sheep.

    Of course, I could attend another institution, but I became captivated by UC’s reputation. I should feel proud and honored, but instead I feel decieved, cheated, and humiliated.

    Go Bruins, go to hell.

    • Stanley Dickerson

      I myself have never been a great student, and I am having to learn how to better manage my time in the quarter system, because there are so many opportunities to waste time and procrastinate. Quarters help me stay focused. Also, in the school I’m currently at, they believe that 50min – 1:15 (3x a week) is the optimal focus window for students, but that’s a general trend that doesn’t account for the drastic extremes that create the average itself. You can’t average white and black, call it grey, and think it still caters to the black or white optimally. So in my school, we do semesters, but class is so short, that we basically have to learn everything on our own. I’ve been in other semester schools, where class is at least 1hr-2:30 if meeting 2-3 times a week. So not every semester system is created equally. I am not as good with these 1 hr classes, especially when they are your pre med subjects, because I’m not the type that comes into class and is laser focused for 1 our straight, and then after an hour, I just don’t care. See, the 1 hr focus window is an average of focus periods. But most people fall in and out of focus throughout the hours, but I guess they just thought they can say, “well if class is two hours, and they lose focus for one hour in variable places, then we’ll patch up the focus windows together and act like students will ideally focus for an hour straight!” The reasoning is so flawed, because focus windows are truly less than 15 minutes. People will still lose focus throughout the hour in the same RATIO. Me, I am a rhythm person. The longer I’m in class, I begin to hit that sweet spot for focusing. It’s like when you are taking a jog, and you break through the mile wall. Everyone is different, so even varying semester set-ups can have drastically different effects. I’d much rather the normal semester over the semester set up I’m in. Now back to the quarter system. Because I’m a rhythm person, but at the same time, not a mental endurance person, I like things short and intense. I’m like a sprinter rather than a marathon runner, who has to really think about managing their pace. Me I just know that if I don’t go full throttle from the get go, I’ve already lost the course, so it’s like sprints. Also, like learning a language, you can get it down faster by being exposed to it more intensely. Quarter systems take a different kind of mental strength, where for a few weeks, you have no life, but it helps me avoid distraction. The mental strength of a quarter system is that of embracing the intensity, and the mental strength required for semester is time management for the long haul. Now, you can have students who manage their time perfectly, and still prefer the quarter system, because they can get ahead, especially when dealing with pre-req courses. Quarter systems are great for transfer to and from, because you can catch-up for a program somewhere in the fall, by taking double the pre-reqs in the spring. Of course, this depends on application periods, but the point is you can catch-up or speed ahead. 6 more classes overall is a semester and 1/3-1/4, and you might as well call it 2 semesters, because you can’t take 1/3rd a semester, and because of how the FA and housing work, you are basically 2 extra semesters in debt, which for Universities can be 18,000-100,000. So yeah, the semester system is the money maker for schools, not the quarter system. The quarter system just allows a lot of flexibility, especially if you decide to change majors, and when transferring, you can transfer in the middle of the fall. Also, you get more breaks in quarter system. Now also, like you have different semester variations, you also have different quarter variations. Some quarters are 8 weeks (4 quarters fall-spring/6 all year), some 10 (3 fall-spring/4 all year), in the summer 5-6, so it’s debatable which version is worthy of competing with the best variant of the semester.

      “cheating” is almost a mute topic in college, because cheating is defined as wide as the Pacific ocean. Everyone has their ideal of what is and isn’t cheating. Most definitions of cheating are laughable. If you have to memorize anything before you walk in class, you might as well have studied, because there is likely 3 versions of the test. If there is a method of cheating that is adaptable, that takes into consideration all the limitations of cell phones, calculators, etc; then that is an incredible form of cheating. If you are using past tests, and that test may not be the version that you take upon walking into class, you essentially just studied a study guide and called it cheating. If your classmates are silly enough to utter words, or try some morse code, it will be obvious. There are many things people do to get ahead when 100′s of thousands of dollars are on the line, especially when you have universities create WEED OUT courses to purposely screw you. The economics of school is what causes people to “cheat”, not the length of a course. People who are willing to “cheat” in a quarter are most likely to cheat during a semester. Also, when it comes to writing reports, research, etc; plagiarism is pretty subjective as well. Yeah, schools have programs to take the subjectivity out of the teacher’s biased hands, but now you just give the judgement up to a program that won’t account for more variables than it was told to. I’ve never had an issue with those programs though. Teachers, yeah. One teacher practically told me I wasn’t smart enough to have known any of this without paraphrasing from a site. I responded with, “do I need to quote everything I learn in my science classes, every bit of information comes from somewhere, so where is the line drawn, I quoted what I had to look up, and didn’t what I didn’t have to look up, simple”, but the teacher was then like, “I’m just going to not report this to the dean,” instead of admitting I was wrongly accused and had my intelligence insulted. I mean, you can’t have your whole paper in quotations. Research papers really depend on the work cited for that stuff.

      Anyhow, that was a rant on cheating, completely off topic, but I think most students should feel the same way about the money leeching education system. When the “powers that be” decide they can’t suppress our minds by limiting education, they then decide to give us the illusion of knowledge that only serves their purpose, not our enlightenment, all while enslaving us in debt. Flipping brilliant strategy if I was a world Tyrant. We may disagree on quarter vs Semester, as I truly believe it depends on the person and how the school sets it up, but we definitely agree on the education problem. I’m learning German right now, because I’m just going to go over to Germany and take classes for practically free. America is overrated. peace