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Editorial: UCLA’s quarter system sacrifices student learning, career opportunities

By Editorial Board

April 3, 2019 11:55 p.m.

The age-old debate is back: three dead sprints to the finish or two long endurance runs?

Chancellor Gene Block, in a surprisingly casual comment during a meeting winter quarter with the the Bruin’s editorial board, indicated he supports removing the quarter system and replacing it with semesters. The 10-week mad rush, Block argued, is a “failed system” that only adds to students’ stress.

It sounded as if he wanted to switch over that day.

In reality, the process to reverse a decadeslong tradition would require more than a mandate from Block – it would need support from a majority of UCLA’s faculty.

But it is no secret that faculty prefer the current system. In fact, in 2003, the Academic Senate shut the idea out in a vote.

UCLA has aged 16 years, but the arguments are largely the same: The quarter system gives more flexibility to faculty for their research, but at the expense of time given to students to learn course material. Meanwhile, the semester system allows students to go further in-depth in their fields of study, potentially at the expense of faculty’s research time.

The answer is still the same, though: The semester system is the superior pick.

Nearly every UCLA student has encountered a professor who deplored the limits of our 10-week system because of their inability to cover their course material with the depth it deserves. Some courses have stretched their material across three quarters of classes to compensate for the two semesters of material offered at other universities. In other cases, the material that would be covered in the last few weeks leading up to the final is lopped off completely. Students at semester schools, on the other hand, can actually get the full scope of the knowledge they are promised when they enroll at a university.

These are just the academic complications. A vast majority of summer internships are geared toward semester system students, who can easily start on a program’s non-negotiable late-May start date. The only options available to quarter system students would be to take an entire quarter off just to take part in coveted internships. STEM students at UCLA who want to participate in Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs at other universities might have to start days after the given program’s start date.

Professors, on the other hand, have championed the quarter system because it coordinates well with their research schedules: teach for a quarter or two, then spend the rest of the year conducting research.

But that sounds like the perfect system for someone prioritizing their magnum opus and research grants over the quality of education for which students shell out thousands of dollars.

Switching to a semester system isn’t easy, for sure: Departments would need to rewrite thousands of courses, degree requirements would need to be reconsidered and class schedules would need to be radically altered. Students would also have to endure courses they dislike for longer periods of time.

But the fact remains that such a change would permit students more time to understand their fields and – following the format of other universities – give them the coveted dead week to study before final exams.

Block called the quarter system “mostly a West Coast phenomenon.” He’s right: We’ve experienced it and seen its qualities – and a quarter still isn’t even two-thirds as good as a semester.

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