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Throwback Thursday: Quarter or semester system? The debate UCLA has been having for decades

(Daily Bruin Archive)

By Olivia Fitzmorris

April 25, 2019 1:01 p.m.

Universities have always been a hot spot for intellectual debate and discussion. Whether it’s an essential topic like politics or social justice, or just picking which dining hall to eat at, nearly everyone on campus has something to say.

And UCLA’s no exception.

Amid all the dialogue occurring on campus, there’s one issue that’s been particularly impossible to resolve, even after decades of debate: quarter system or semester system?

[RELATED: Chancellor Gene Block supports switching UCLA to semester system]

An article from the Daily Bruin from March 12, 1999, covers a revival of this age-old debate. Opinions clashed after the Huntington Beach Community College District announced it planned to condense down its term length from the typical 18-week semester. In some cases, classes would be shaved down by as much as 14 weeks. While the district didn’t switch to the quarter system completely, the shortened terms were much closer to UCLA’s 10-week timeframe.

According to the story, this change arose from student demand and it aimed to make more class times available for students’ busy schedules.

The big change from a nearby district prompted some introspection, and both students and UCLA officials gave The Bruin their two cents about which term length is the better choice for higher education institutions.

Jose Rivero, an administrative assistant for UCLA’s division of education and social research methodology at the time, backed the 10-week system at UCLA, saying it is the most conducive and efficient timeframe for students to properly digest course material.

On the other hand, first-year computer science and engineering student at the time, Evan Appleby, complained that everything happens too quickly in the quarter system and it is overwhelming for students.

“During a semester you would be able to appreciate the changes around you,” he said.

Other supporters of the semester system argue semester schools, such as UC Berkeley, benefit from days or even a week of time which is set aside for student to study before big exams. A “dead week,” as it is colloquially known, has the potential to reduce student stress.

But while some say quarters are stress-inducing, others argue they provide more opportunities for students to try new classes and explore topics that interest them. The shorter system does allow for students to take more classes each year.

These pros and cons, along with many others, have been weighed against each other countless times in our school’s history. Founded under the semester system in 1919, UCLA switched to the quarter system starting in 1966. Since then, a reversal has been considered in 1985 and 2002, but both movements eventually fell through after votes by faculty.

These failed attempts certainly don’t give much hope to Bruins who happen to be struggling with the 10-week system but it may not be over just yet.

Chancellor Gene Block said in March, in a meeting with Daily Bruin Editorial Board, that he approves a switch to the semester system because the quarter system has largely failed.

“Most schools have moved away from it,” he said. “And it’s really mostly a West Coast phenomenon now and time to change.”

It’s easy to fall into the same old traps, but it’s also nothing to sneeze at when UCLA’s chancellor makes a firm stance on what has been such a divided issue.

In the meantime, students have made the most of the quarter system, and the debate draws on.

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Olivia Fitzmorris
Fitzmorris was the 2019-2020 Blogging assistant editor. She was previously a Blogging contributor and a Copy slot editor in the 2018-2019 school year. She studies Communication and Digital Humanities.
Fitzmorris was the 2019-2020 Blogging assistant editor. She was previously a Blogging contributor and a Copy slot editor in the 2018-2019 school year. She studies Communication and Digital Humanities.
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