The following story came from the Jan. 29, 1990 edition of the Daily Nexus. In the article, writer Chris Ziegler describes how faculty considered changing from the quarter system to the semester system.
Future UCSB students may abandon the 10-week quarter system in favor of spending 14 or 15 in their classes – as [the] University’s Academic Senate has begun formal discussions on the possibility of converting to a semester system.
The Senate established a special committee Jan. 18 to evaluate the pros and cons of both quarter and semester systems. The committee is scheduled to make a recommendation by May.
One of the primary reasons UCSB is contemplating switching from a quarter to a semester system is due to current informal talks about revising the undergraduate General Education program, making it an ideal time to consider converting to a different calendar system, Senate Chair W.E. Brownlee said.
The committee, whose members have not yet been selected, will consider approximately 40 arguments for and against semesters and quarters.
Most of the reasons for maintaining the quarter system expressed by faculty deal with flexibility in organizing and scheduling classes, and the variety of courses available to students. For example, those in the physical sciences and engineering prefer quarters because of the number of classes students can take while remaining within their chosen field.
Those who support switching to semesters generally point to the opportunity for greater depth and longer review of material, and the more relaxed pace of learning under a 14- or 15-week session. Faculty in the humanities, and social sciences, for example, generally favor semesters because of the additional time it allows for research papers and projects, and the desire for deep analysis of a subject or issue, according to several professors in both the sciences and the humanities.
The 10-week quarter system allows students flexibility in taking more varied classes, according to chemistry professor Glyn Pritchard. And “It keeps everyone on their toes,” he said.
Pritchard also believes it is easier to attract and retain graduate students on the quarter system because of the ability to offer financial support for one or two quarters, instead of having to commit to funding for one longer semester.
Political science professor A.E. Keir Nash, a proponent of semesters, however, called the quarter system a “cafeteria” style means of education, enabling students to, in effect, say: “I don’t want to go intensive in anything… All the academically serious arguments go in favor of the semester system,” Nash chimed.
If UCSB adopts the semester system, it will be part of a growing trend among many universities to switch away from a quarter system. In 1988-89, 86 of 545 institutions switched to the early semester program, according to an annual survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Of those 86 institutions, 60 had been on the quarter system, according to a survey.
Though history professor Sears McGee supports the idea of having semesters at UCSB, the “actual process of transition is one thing I don’t want to contemplate,” he said.
Such a change in the school calendar would force an intensive review of the curriculum, both in examining the number of requirements and the subjects of the GE program, College of Letters and Sciences Associate Dean David Kohl said.
However, according to McGee, who is the senate’s GE committee chair, no formal proposal for GE revision has been made to his committee.
UCSB Registrar Charles McKinney does not have strong opinions on whether UCSB should switch to semesters, but said, “from a purely workload perspective, [the switch would] reduce the registration process from three to two [times a year, and would] certainly have some impact on the amount of money” spent on registration.
If UCSB converts to semesters, which it abandoned in the late 1960s, the university would most likely phase into the new system over a couple of years. The transition period would give faculty time to redesign courses to match the longer term, and allow the administration to coordinate course registration and unit and grade conversions, Kohl said.
According to McGee, a major reason many schools switched to the quarter system in the 1960s and ’70s was to have more efficient use of the school site year round.
However, the summer quarter did not become interchangeable with other quarters, as the university hoped, according to Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Programs Ronald Tobin. UCSB “counted too much on other students from other schools to come here” for summer school, he said.
Tobin said the conversion would not negatively affect the academic programs he oversees, which include university extension, summer session and instructional development.
Although chemistry professor Curtis Anderson believes “students should decide” what calendar system UCSB should have, faculty are in charge of organizing the curriculum, according to the university’s philosophy of shared governance.
UCSB last debated this issue in 1981-82, when the faculty voted 209-200 to retain the quarter system. In 1982, undergraduates opposed the switch, while graduates favored it.
Both Associated Students and the Graduates Students Association intend to take positions on the idea of switching to semesters later this year, according to representatives from each student organization.