The General Education Task Force was established in the fall of 2015 to review the University's undergraduate curriculum and to make recommendations about distribution requirements, independent work and other aspects of academics at Princeton. The academic calendar determines how these components fit together. A new survey which asks students for feedback regarding potential changes to the academic calendarhas been created by the Task Force in conjunction with the Dean of the College, the USG Academics Committee and members of the Graduate Student Government. The survey explores the following three proposals: 1) moving the fall term exams before winter recess, 2) expanding the teaching semester from 12 to 13 weeks and 3) increasing intersession from 1 to 2 weeks. These are important issues about which the Board has written before; consequently, we call on all students to participate in the brief survey.
As the Board has stated before, moving Princeton’s fall term final exams to before winter recess would benefit students in several ways. First, students would complete exams on material they have been studying all semester without the three-week gap in learning that exists in the current calendar. Students often complain that the winter recess distances them from the course material, making studying for exams in January much more difficult. Second, completing work before the break frees time over recess for activities unconnected to coursework. Students might choose to spend more restful time with their families, work on internship or job applications, travel abroad, volunteer or explore other personal interests. Of course, moving the exams to before the break implies other logistical changes. The shift might mean starting the fall term earlier in the year, and a decision would have to be made regarding the deadlines for junior independent work. The survey accounts for these issues and gives students the option to opine on how to best address these smaller changes.
One new proposal included in the new survey asks students whether they would prefer extending the teaching semester from the current length of 12 weeks to 13. While this modification could theoretically leave more time for additional material or for covering current material more in depth, the proposed change comes at a loss to the time allotted to either reading period or finals. We believe this is a detrimental and uneven exchange, given the particular importance of the work carried out during the reading period and final exam time. Reading period is a time when students focus intensely on reviewing the semester’s material and stitching together their ideas for final papers; this work of personally engaging the semester’s material is when much of the semester’s learning is cemented, so weakening that time would be detrimental. The reduced time at semester's end to finish all this important work would also increase stress during those already hectic days. It would be in the interest of students’ mental health to keep that time as relaxed as possible.
The new survey considers many other details, including how long to make intersession break if finals are moved to before the recess, whether it would be better to start the year earlier or end later and whether it would be better to shorten reading period or finals if a 13-week semester were necessary. These are all presented to students in a brief and clear survey, and we encourage students to reflect on their experiences and share their thoughts about the proposed changes through the easy survey.
Princeton considered revising the academic calendar in 2008, but was unable to reach a conclusion because of a lack of any clear student preference on a survey that was then administered. The current survey is a new opportunity to improve the academic experience at Princeton for current and future students, and all that students have to do is follow the personalized link to the survey that all students received from Dean Dolan via email. Regardless of whether you consider changing the academic calendar to be harmful or beneficial, all students should take the ten-minute survey and have their view positively contribute to this momentous discussion.
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