New fall schedule to be implemented in coming school year

Dylan Reed-Maxfield

Lawrence students will begin classes next fall Sept. 14 — roughly 10 days earlier than they had returned in the past — and will complete fall term just before Thanksgiving. The board of trustees mandated the calendar change, voting three weeks ago to shift the term earlier in an effort to save money on energy and follow through on the campus-wide “green initiative.”
The board found that by shutting down student residences and some other campus buildings over a longer winter break, the university could reduce its heating bill by as much as $200,000.
The change comes during an economic recession that is forcing many colleges and universities to respond in more drastic ways to huge budget deficits. One reflection of the serious impact of the recession on other institutions of higher education is an entire section of headlines on U.S. News and World Report’s Web site titled “Colleges in Recession.”
Among the articles are stories of faculty and staff cuts, significant curriculum changes, and even the discontinuation of whole degree programs. The Louisiana State University System is expected to cut 2,000 positions next year. Brandeis University recently announced the closing of its Rose Art Museum and a plan to auction off the entire 6,000-piece collection that it houses.
The University of Washington, 30 percent of whose students are transfers from community colleges, will not accept transfer applications this spring. Closer to home, Beloit College has already laid off 34 of its fewer than 500 faculty and staff members Dec. 31.
The new academic calendar is seen by both the trustees and the administration as a way to create much-needed budget savings without resorting to drastic measures that would fundamentally alter the nature of a Lawrence education.
According to Provost and Dean of the Faculty David Burrows, the focus all along has been on preserving what he called “the academic and artistic core [of our programs].”
He emphasized that the plan to close down buildings during December is allowing the university to leave unaltered things it considers more essential to its mission; jobs will not be eliminated, class sizes will not increase, and the school is proceeding with searches for all eight tenure-track positions it has planned to fill next year.
The trustees’ decision did not include details of the new calendar, but directed the faculty curriculum committee to set dates for a fall term that would end before Thanksgiving. At President Jill Beck’s request, a committee of faculty and staff representing a wide variety of the university’s departments has begun to meet under the co-direction of Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell and Associate Dean of the Faculty Nancy Wall.
Truesdell described the committee’s mission as working out the broad and complex “implications” of the trustees’ directive. These include decisions about which campus buildings to keep open during the extended break, how much to heat them, what staffing changes will be appropriate for December, and how to make these changes while causing the least hardship for employees. “There’s still university business to be conducted [over break],” said Truesdell. “We need to figure out how to conduct this business [and still save the money].”
Other concerns focus on athletic teams whose practice and competition schedules continue into December, and on international students who cannot travel home over break and have previously relied on staying in their dorms. Although official plans regarding such challenges have not yet been announced, Dean Truesdell said that the administration is keenly aware of the difficulties the new calendar will pose to students. She also said that her committee is working hard and “thinking creatively” to come up with solutions.
Associate Professor of Government and Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science Claudena Skran, who serves on the curriculum committee that finalized the dates for the new calendar, was hopeful that the change would constitute “a minor modification for most students.”
She pointed out that the 12-week summer break is still long enough for students to complete internships, and even suggested that some may find they enjoy having more time off between fall and winter terms.