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Isman ’15: Why a winter term won’t stick

Opinions Columnist

On Friday, we received an email from Provost Vicki Colvin about the formation of a Winter Term Working Group tasked with examining the possibility of implementing a new winter term. While Wintersession has worked well at the Rhode Island School of Design, Brown would not benefit from a winter term. It would not add so much to our academic year to justify changing our calendar.

Since the Winter Term Working Group’s charge states that the “differences in alignment between Brown and RISD’s academic calendar in the winter and spring” lead to problems, it seems safe to assume that Brown’s winter term could be modeled after RISD’s.

But RISD’s Wintersession has a very specific purpose. Many RISD students have too many requirements to take several electives, so Wintersession serves as a time to explore other areas of interest. At Brown, while we have concentration requirements, we spend the majority of our four years exploring other areas of study and taking advantage of the open curriculum.

Moreover, RISD students take one class during Wintersession. This is justified because that one class is often an art class that requires a lot of studio time and work. But this would not be justified for literature or economics classes at Brown that meet for multiple hours a day, multiple times a week during the regular fall and spring semesters. We don’t need the additional class time for these subjects, and having students come back for a one-class winter term would be frustrating.

Granted, a winter term would make it easier for Brown and RISD students to take classes at each other’s schools.

Much of the scheduling problem stems from the fact that studio classes during Wintersession are long, which makes it hard for RISD students to shop spring semester classes at Brown. The “differences in alignment” that the working group’s charge describes are inconvenient and challenging for a select number of students, but they do not apply to the majority of students at either school. If the working group is going to focus on enhancing coordination between the two universities, it should first examine the fall and spring course offerings of interest to students in both schools before deciding to create a whole new term.

The working group’s charge also raises questions about the length of Brown’s winter break. While the working group has not announced whether the winter term would cut into winter break or spring semester — or both — these are concerns that need to be kept in mind when making the decision whether to implement a winter term.

Though the charge states that students “often express concern that the break is too long but not quite long enough to support opportunities for internships,” a winter term would not necessarily guarantee a more workable time length, and the purpose of winter break is not exclusively to provide students with internship opportunities or academic credit.

Along the same lines, many students use winter break to travel home or to partake in family traditions, which would not be accommodated in the event that the introduction of a winter term shortened winter break.

Colvin’s email — and the possibility of having a winter term — comes with a lot of questions. While I am hopeful that the members of the working group will consider all of the ways in which the University could benefit from a winter term, I also hope they keep in mind the ways in which it might affect students without a real need or benefit.

Beyond the way that the winter term might affect students, it could also limit faculty members who use winter break to prepare for the spring semester, attend academic conferences or focus more intently on research projects — occasionally with student research assistants — that can fall behind during the semester.

Finally, if a winter term is eventually implemented, I hope the working group members find a way for it to improve student life, such as by making it a time for students to take educational trips or take a single class for a whole month for a justifiable reason. To accomplish this, the working group will have to move away from the purpose of RISD’s Wintersession to find a uniquely Brown experience.

Samantha Isman ’15 can be reached at

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