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The College Curriculum Council met last month to discuss changes to the academic calendar that might permanently start the school year the Wednesday before Labor Day in order to make the fall and spring semesters the same length.

The spring semester is currently four days longer than the fall semester.

The motion was initially to start the academic years of 2010–11 and 2013–14 earlier because Rosh Hashanah falls during the first week of September in both those years. But when the Council met to discuss this proposal in May 2009, faculty members asked whether the University should consider making every fall semester begin before Labor Day. The question of starting the 2013–14 academic year before Labor Day has been dropped from the motion in order to give the Council an opportunity to consider the permanent change.

The council did pass a motion to move the fall 2010 semester up. It will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 1, five days before Labor Day.

"In principle, we're in favor of regularizing teaching days," said Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron. "We made the decision not to bring the question around to the faculty yet to have more time to discuss."

Bergeron said she intends to discuss the issue with the Undergraduate Council of Students at the end of this year. "We have to see what it feels like to start earlier next year," she said. She also advocated for a "campus-wide discussion" of the issue.

Faculty members consulted have had a variety of opinions, Bergeron said. "When it was brought up that fall semester is shorter than spring semester, a lot of the faculty members on the council very suddenly realized that ‘oh, that was the problem!' " she said.

"I think that having unequal semesters is really very awkward for a couple of reasons," said

Professor of Mathematics Thomas Banchoff, who gave the speech proposing the calendar change at the council's meeting. "I teach a lot of beginning students and I think that freshmen have a particularly difficult time with their first semester at Brown when it's so compressed."

Banchoff has taught a linear algebra class during both fall and spring semesters. He called spring a "much nicer semester, simply because you can time things a little better."

Banchoff also pointed out the unevenness of vacation time between the two semesters.

Students get a week off at the end of March, but other than a few long weekends, the only vacation they receive in the fall is Thanksgiving. "If you teach on a Tuesday-Thursday schedule, there's exactly one day off between the beginning of September and the end of December — Thanksgiving Day," Banchoff said. "It's asymmetric and that's very unhelpful."

Banchoff recommended that Brown give students a week's vacation sometime in the end of October, as many other schools — like Penn State and Notre Dame — do. "I think that having a vacation period in the middle of the semester is very important," he said.

Not all professors have had such a reaction, however. "I thought it was the other way around," said Associate Professor of Chemistry Christoph Rose-Petruck, who teaches CHEM 0330: "Equilibrium, Rate and Structure" in both the fall and the spring. "I don't know whether there's really a big difference. I don't mind basically either way."

University Registrar Michael Pesta said the Council would consider moving the semester earlier when it meets in the fall, but that any changes would most likely begin in 2012–13, not in 2011–12.

Pesta added that the Council will look at the difference in the length of the reading periods each semester. Currently, the spring reading period is twelve days long, while in the fall it only lasts for five days. Pesta said the Council might consider finding a balance between the two and give students a week both semesters.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, students found the idea of a longer fall reading period more appealing than beginning the semester early. "People shouldn't be spending August in school anywhere in the first world," said Alex Verdolini '11. "Fall classes do seem more rushed, but it doesn't bother me."

Mimi Dwyer '13 said she hadn't noticed that the fall semester was shorter, but found the fall reading period "really hectic," she said.

"I think the four days in the fall are negligible," said Mike Johnson '13, "but a longer reading period would be nice."

Johnson added that a fall break would "not really have such an impact."

"I would rather have a longer reading period," he added.

"It's a funny thing how you don't think about a calendar but just accept it," Bergeron said. "Ultimately, we're doing due diligence and looking into it. Let's see what it feels like."



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