In March 2017, the Dean of the Faculty charged a newly created with developing a proposal for changing the University’s academic calendar to move exams before winter break, start the fall semester earlier, and create a new Wintersession period in January with additional opportunities for students. For the past year, we have served as the undergraduate members of this committee. With the faculty considering the committee’s proposed calendar at its April 2 meeting, we want to provide students with an explanation of calendar reform. The proposed calendar addresses the challenges created by holding fall final exams in January while still preserving many positive features of Princeton’s current calendar. Most notably, the new calendar would move fall final exams to December and create a two-week, non-credit bearing “Wintersession” in January before the spring term.
The committee’s recommendations are the product of a robust process that consulted people across the University. During initial meetings, we heard from representatives of USG, faculty members, administrators, and other groups who provided important context about the shortcomings of the current academic calendar and the possibilities created by calendar reform. These discussions informed presentations the committee gave this fall to many groups on campus. Based on comments from these meetings and our own discussions, the committee prepared a proposed calendar and asked for feedback from students and faculty through a survey in January. In the survey, 72 percent of undergraduates favored the proposed calendar over the current academic calendar. This strong level of student support was an important factor in the committee’s decision to recommend this proposal for adoption by the faculty.
The first major change in the proposed calendar is to move final exams before winter break, which has strong student support. In a 2016 survey, expressed support for moving final exams. With exams and end of term assignments looming during the holidays under the current calendar, students often feel that winter break is not a ‘real’ break and does not allow enough time to rest and recharge. These student concerns are among the primary reasons the proposed calendar moves fall semester’s Dean’s Date and final exams to December.
The creation of a two-week, optional Wintersession period in January is another major change in the proposed calendar. This space would build on existing student-run programming during intersession and provide an additional week, compared to the current calendar, for students to pursue on and off campus opportunities organized by the University, departments, courses, and other students. These activities could include student group travel, workshops and non-credit mini-courses, and international experiences, among other possibilities.
Although the proposed calendar makes important changes, it also preserves positive features of Princeton’s current calendar. The committee recognized the importance of maintaining full-week midterm breaks in both semesters because students often use this time to travel with friends and student groups, return home to visit family, and take a much-needed break before gearing up for the second half of the semester. The new calendar would also keep the fall independent work deadline in January. While this might mean that students have to complete some academic work over winter break as juniors, many undergraduates stated that they favored keeping the deadline in January to avoid worrying about completing high-quality independent work in the midst of final exam season.
Moving final exams to December and keeping a full-week midterm break in the fall required several tradeoffs. Going forward, the fall semester would begin earlier, during the first week of September, and fall classes would start on the Tuesday after or the Wednesday before Labor Day depending on the year. Additionally, the final exam period has to be shortened to seven days and end between December 19 and 23. These measures may seem slightly problematic at first glance, but moving exams before winter break while maintaining a full week for fall break would be extremely difficult without changing the length of finals.
In order to alleviate potential concerns associated with these tradeoffs, the committee made several recommendations for implementing the proposed calendar. These include asking the Council on Teaching and Learning to assess the implications of a shortened final exam period for policies and practices around end-of-term work and publishing the final exam schedule by the end of week three so students have as much time as possible to purchase airline tickets around the December holiday.
After years of discussions and surveys on this issue, calendar reform is a real possibility. The faculty could vote on the proposed calendar as early as its April 23 meeting. If the new calendar is adopted this spring, it could go into effect for the 2020-2021 academic year, depending on the implementation timeline. Students have expressed their opinions on this issue for years through surveys and other forums, and we want to thank you for engaging with this process. Please contact us if you have any questions. The committee’s can be found at acr.princeton.edu.
Olivia Ott ’20, Chair of the USG Academics Committee
Connor Pfeiffer ’18, Member of the USG Academics Committee
Olivia Ott and Connor Pfeiffer were undergraduate members of the Ad Hoc Committee on Calendar Reform. These views are their own and do not represent the position of the committee or USG. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.