Representatives from the Ad Hoc Calendar Reform Committee, the Honor System Review Committee, and Undergraduate Student Government President Rachel Yee ’19 addressed the topics of calendar reform, honor council referenda, and USG’s plans for Yee’s term at a March 26 meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community.
The meeting, which took place in the Maeder Hall Auditorium in the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, began with an opening roll call and review of the last meeting’s minutes. President Eisgruber yielded to computer science professor Aarti Gupta and Deputy Dean of the College Elizabeth Colagiuri for a discussion of calendar reform.
The largest of the reforms proposed was that of moving winter exams to December instead of January.
“One of the things that we wanted was to move the fall part of exams to before winter break, and that’s the first big change we suggested,” said Gupta. “We move the fall final exams to December, and start and end the spring term one week earlier.”
As Gupta and Colagiuri repeatedly mentioned, the University is unique among its peer institutions in having its fall exams after winter break.
To accommodate the earlier exams, the proposed calendar would feature a seven-day exam period instead of an 11-day one, and the fall semester would begin slightly earlier, with classes starting either on the Tuesday after Labor Day or the Wednesday before Labor Day.
“I want to be up front that this does require starting the fall term earlier,” said Gupta. “There is no way to fit in the 12 weeks for teaching, the reading period, the exam period, and finish before winter break unless we start earlier.”
In addition, instead of Intersession, the calendar proposed a two-week “Wintersession,” a flexible space in January that students could use for everything from junior paper and senior thesis work to short internships.
Students at the CPUC meeting expressed some concerns that the slots for Sunday exams would increase from the current one to three, but Colagiuri emphasized that the policy of exemptions for religious reasons would extend to those new slots in the calendar.
Colagiuri emphasized the distinction between the elements of the calendar that were and were not under consideration. Specifically, the start of classes and the length of reading period, exams, and intersession were all under review, while there was no consideration to change, for example, the length of spring or Thanksgiving breaks or the 12-week academic year.
“We took [the possibility of break extensions] very seriously,” said Colagiuri. “The math is the math, though, and the bottom line was that we didn’t see any available days to do so unless we were to start even earlier in the fall.”
A survey of students and faculty to see what they thought of the proposed calendar showed that 75 percent of faculty, 73 percent of undergraduates, and 84 percent of graduate students supported the reformed calendar over the current academic calendar.
Eisgruber expressed his support and reaffirmed Colagiuri’s statement that if the faculty approve the new calendar, the Office of Financial Aid would assess its implications with a particular emphasis on making sure students of all incomes can stay on campus, travel, or have an internship during Wintersession without financial strain.
“There will be a very strong commitment on our part to make sure that students from all backgrounds can participate in Wintersession,” Eisgruber said.
Moving on to the second order of business, Eisgruber invited mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Clarence Rowley ’95 and Carolyn Liziewski ’18 from the Honor System Review Committee to discuss the Honor Code referenda and other possible changes being considered by the committee.
“The entire committee [is] doing a lot of good and really important work,” said Dean of the College Jill Dolan. “We understand the concerns that students have about these issues, and I think the committee is doing an excellent job at really taking them under consideration.”
The primary topic of discussion was the Committee’s decisions to recommend against the first and third Honor Code referenda, which would decrease the standard penalty for a violation of the Honor Code and give professors total jurisdiction over whether or not an infraction occurred, respectively.
“We discussed this at length, and at the end, we’re not ready to make recommendations about penalties,” said Rowley. “This is a major issue, and a complex issue, with pros and cons on either side, and we’ve not reached consensus of any recommendations on this.”
The first referendum, Rowley and Liziewski stated, would create a disparity between punishments from the Honor Committee, which focuses on in-class violations, and from the Committee on Discipline, which focuses on a broader range of out-of-class infractions.
“These need to be consistent with the Committee on Discipline,” said Rowley. “We thought it violated basic fairness to have completely different penalties for in-class examinations and take-home examinations.”
Rowley and Liziewski also found that the third referendum would give what they believed to be far too much power over a case to the professor or instructor. They said they are seeking other ways to ensure that the instructors’ input has appropriate weight while keeping the process of judging violations a student-driven proceeding.
“It amounts to a professor veto,” said Rowley. “The course instructor has the power to totally exonerate a student, by saying the actions are not in violation of class policy, and that has some drawbacks.”
The second referendum originally required two pieces of evidence in order for a case to move forward. The Honor System review committee revised the wording of the referendum to require more evidence in cases where the only evidence provided is one student’s testimony, believing that the prior version of the referendum, according to Liziewski, “ties the Honor Committee’s hands.”
The Committee on Examinations and Standings will decide if that single referenda will be put to a faculty vote. The reworded referenda will be presented for a student vote again, but not in the spring 2018 semester.
“We don’t recommend this particular version of the due process protection,” said Liziewski. “However, we did work together to provide some new language because we certainly aren’t opposed to putting in the Honor Constitution this protection for students.”
Some students in the meeting raised concerns about whether the decisions on the referenda were truly in the hands of the student body at this point, since faculty are making decisions on referenda that a majority of students voted to approve.
Eisgruber defended the process, distinguishing between referenda that simply have to do with “procedures” — like the fourth referendum, which was approved — and the other three, which have to do with “principles.”
“These changes are important because they run the risk of insulating students or giving students a free opportunity to compromise what are fundamental parts of the academic process,” said Eisgruber. “If you lessen across the board the likelihood or the punishments that exist for cheating, at that point you undermine what are principles that are critical for what this university does.”
According to Liziewski, the committee will continue to meet on a weekly basis to discuss any further changes to the Honor Constitution, and will publish a full report later in the spring.
“I’m grateful to the committee for taking this issue seriously,” said Eisgruber. “They obviously matter a lot and I appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion.”
The meeting concluded with a presentation from Yee, who focused on clearly communicating USG’s accomplishments, its current projects, and its plans for the future.
“By equipping our USG leaders with the skills they need to execute their goals, and by setting goals that are both measurable and achievable, I’m optimistic about what we can get done this year,” Yee said.
Yee focused on the USG’s past and current efforts in communication, pointing to the strides that had already been made with its newly redesigned website and past members archive, as well as plans for a newsletter to keep students engaged.
“This is one small piece of a much larger communications strategy,” Yee said.
In addition, Yee emphasized the projects USG hopes to undertake in the rest of the year, including celebrating women’s leadership — she mentioned that nine out of the 11 eating club presidents are women this year — as well as working to provide menstrual products in many of the bathrooms and engaging with calendar reform.
Yee also mentioned being in conversation with Dean Dolan to attempt to implement Kognito Online Training, an online program similar to those used in freshman orientation to teach students how to help others with mental health struggles. She is in discussions to make the program mandatory for sophomores.