Switch to semester schedule would inhibit the ‘Lawrence difference’

Megan Brown

There is currently a discussion taking place among the faculty about a possible switch from the current trimester system to semesters. There are several advantages to the semester system such as longer time to learn material, the school year would end sooner making it easier to find summer employment, and for conservatory students taking lessons there would be fewer interruptions to rehearsals. At first glance, the semester system appears to be an improvement over the current calendar. But consider further the implications switching to a semester system would have on both the students and faculty. A Lawrence science major must take thirteen to fifteen classes, most of which have required labs. Under a semester system those courses would have to be completed in eight semesters rather than twelve trimesters, further limiting the courses a student would be able to take in two ways. First, decreasing the number of terms automatically decreases the number of courses a professor can teach in a given year. Unless the university was to budget for additional professors, there is not enough time in the day for the current faculty to offer additional courses, especially when you factor in lab time. Under the semester system it is proposed that each professor will be teaching five courses instead of six, a 16% reduction. Second, lab classes as well as conservatory courses with rehearsals and studio art classes are a much larger commitment of in-class time for the same credit as non-lab/ rehearsal courses, for example a history class. Switching to a semester system would mean four fewer terms in which to take the classes we are interested in. Fewer terms would force students to choose between taking multiple lab courses in a term that would already have more classes than we are currently carrying, or simply not taking the class.

Switching to a semester system would reduce the number of classes required to graduate from 36 to 32, an 11% reduction. In addition to the classes required to complete the science major, students must also take the eleven courses to meet the general education requirements bringing the total number of required courses to 24-27. Those students wishing to go on to medical, dental, veterinary, or grad school must also take two semesters of organic chemistry, two semesters of physics, and one semester of math bringing the total number of required courses to 29-32. On the high end that leaves the student with no open spots in which to take classes that may be of interest outside of the requirements, which is the antithesis of a liberal arts education. The alternative would be to decrease the number of courses required to complete a major, decreasing the quality of our education. Will the reduction in the breadth of our education come with a comparable decrease in our tuition? Or, will the tuition continue to increase while what we receive in return diminishes?

Consider the Biology Department, one of the largest majors in the college. There are already a lot of students in the introductory courses, currently nearly sixty students in Introductory Zoology. That is, roughly, thirty people per lab section. That is also the capacity of the lab space for that course. Zoology is usually offered twice a year to accommodate students, as is Biology 110. Switching to a semester system would require that two sections of introductory biology be offered in the first semester and two sections in the second, bringing the total number of students in an intro class per semester to well over 100. That is four lab sections of introductory biology and more man hours of set-up time than we currently have staff to handle. Not to mention the fact that two sections of an intro class running at the same time decreases the number of upper level courses that can be offered when the department only has seven professors who would like to see their families occasionally.

For all of the inconveniences a trimester system may have, switching to a semester system without first expanding the teaching space and increasing the number of faculty members, and available resources imposes huge limitations on the number and types of courses we can choose from, and, if the number of courses taught decreases, will increase class sizes. Small class sizes and the ability to take such a wide range of courses despite our size is largely what drew me to Lawrence in the first place, and even though I am graduating in June I would hate to see that change. I encourage each of you to engage your professors in a discussion of the possible impacts a switch to semesters would bring. Let them know how you feel, after all it is your education at stake and an unvoiced opinion cannot make a difference.