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Task force recommends change in language requirement, academic calendar

In a report issued Thursday morning, the Task Force on General Education made six recommendations pertaining to undergraduate teaching that span from mandating foreign language studies regardless of prior proficiency to changes in the academic calendar.

According to the report, the task force is recommending that the fall term start earlier and conclude in December. Under this new calendar, students would complete their final exams before winter break and have the opportunity to participate in a three-week “January term.” During this term, the University will offer both credit-bearing courses and not-for-credit co-curricular experiences for students, such as Princeternships and independent work opportunities. This January term would be optional for all students.

According to Deputy Dean of the College Elizabeth Colagiuri GS ’99, most calendars are approved four years in advance, and if the calendar changes are to be implemented, they will not be for the next school year.

“If our recommendation is approved, we would hope to implement [it] sooner than after four years. But it will not happen next year because of a number of logistics we have to work through,” she said.

USG Academics Committee Chair Shannon Osaka ’17 said that when the committee found out that the general task force had been charged with assessing the academic calendar, the academics committee wanted to help out.

Osaka said that the committee co-designed a survey during the 2014-2015 school year with the Graduate Student Government and the Office of the Dean of the College to assess student opinion on the current academic calendar.

“The winter break was only two weeks long, so a lot of students were upset by that, so there was a USG referendum about changing the calendar and as part of that referendum,” Osaka said. “A lot of people wrote in comments, saying ‘I don't like having a two-week winter break and I wish that finals were before winter break.’”

Osaka noted that this was the first time that USG gathered comprehensive evidence showing that the majority of students were unhappy with the current calendar.

“What we learned from the survey is that around 75% of students really want this to change, particularly students who live really far away or have difficulty traveling home multiple times during the winter,” she said. “I think that students feel that it would be helpful for mental health and wellbeing where they feel like they feel able to relax and don’t feel like they need to be studying.”

Osaka added that USG will send out a survey this weekend on the different parts of the recommendation.

“Students should definitely fill that out if they have strong feelings one way or the other, so that we can communicate that to the task force as well,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming in that Princeton has looked at this issue multiple times over many decades, but we’re really starting to see momentum toward having a change.”

Another recommendation of the task force is to encourage departments to create for-credit, writing-intensive seminars for third-year students. These discipline-specific courses would require graded work, but would not replace the graded junior paper assignments. Additionally, the task force encouraged departments that currently require two JPs to consider consolidating the two assignments into a single spring JP that counts for two units of credit. Though the task force recommended against permitting dual concentrations, it encouraged departments to consider offering “formalized joint or mixed concentrations.”

Currently, departments have the discretion to mandate not-for-credit junior seminars for concentrators. Colagiuri and Associate Dean of the College Rebekah Massengill GS ’09 noted that, though they had not heard of specific negative comments about current non-credit-bearing junior seminars, they believe that any courses of this nature should be credit-bearing.

The recommendations further support requiring both A.B. and B.S.E students to take at least one course that explores the “intersections of culture, identity, and power” and at least one further course with international content. The report noted that courses in the former category would not just “probe diversity,” but explore aspects of race, gender, indigeneity, and other aspects of cultural identity. The courses with international content may explore topics such as trade, globalization, and cross-border conflicts.

“Last year’s conversations on campus definitely influenced the committee’s considerations,” Colagiuri said.

According to the report, the task force had invited student organizations including the Black Justice League, the Open Campus Coalition, and Princeton Latinos y Amigos when deliberating the recommendation.

Moreover, the task force recommended requiring foreign language instruction for all A.B. students, regardless of existing proficiency. The report states that those who have sufficient Advanced Placement credit or native fluency would be required to take at least one 200-level or above course in the acquired language or an introductory course in a new language.

“Internationalism has been a central value for the university, particularly in terms of the competency and skills we want students to gain. Learning that new language is not just about translation, but also the skills needed to enter into a different cultural view,” said Massengill.

Colagiuri further noted that as a part of the strategic planning process, the University may begin to offer less commonly taught languages.

Along with this new requirement, the report also recommended that undergraduates have flexibility in choosing the area of emphasis in their distribution courses. Though the distribution areas have not changed, the report recommends that students take one course in each area and pick three areas to take a second course in.

The report also recommended the creation of “sophomore signature” courses that explore topics in public health, environmental conservation, global migration, and other social issues.

The task force is chaired by Dean of the College Jill Dolan. Students may submit comments and reactions to the report until Nov. 25.

According to Colagiuri, during the public comment period, members of the task force will schedule public town halls for students and faculty to provide feedback. The task force is currently collaborating with the USG to host the public forums, Colagiuri said.

She further noted that after collecting community input, the task force will report feedback to other University administrators, including President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and Dean of the Faculty Deborah Prentice. The administration will subsequently issue endorsements of certain recommendations and determine the speed with which to proceed.

The recommendations that have received the endorsement of the administration will be passed through to standing faculty committees for a vote, Colagiuri said. She anticipates that the Faculty Committee on the Course of Study, which handles curriculum and academic requirements, as well as the Committee on Classrooms and Schedule to become involved.

Finally, with approval from the standing committees, the favored recommendation will go to the general faculty for a vote, according to Colagiuri.

“The soonest we can anticipate any recommendation to reach that point is during the April 2017 faculty meeting,” Colagiuri added.