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January 28, 2011

Intersession: Moving a Graveyard?

“It has often been said that it is as difficult to change a university’s curriculum as it is to move a graveyard.” [1] Yet, for seven years in the early 1970s, CWRU adopted not only a different academic calendar, but devoted the month of January to new kinds of undergraduate teaching and learning experiments in a program called Intersession.

Before Intersession winter semester classes recessed just before Christmas and resumed early in January, with reading days and final exams taking place in mid-January. Spring semester started early in February and ended in June. With Intersession, the University adopted the so-called “4-1-4” calendar of two 15-week semesters, with the month of January turned over to Intersession.

In contrast to juggling multiple courses during the regular semesters, Intersession offered students one month to focus on a single topic. In its proposal to the two undergraduate faculties, the Joint Curriculum Committee expressed the hope that, “January, now the most sterile period of the academic year, may become the most fruitful period.” [2] Participation was voluntary, both for students and faculty and full-time students paid no additional tuition. Alumni could participate, as well. Intersession included formal intensive courses, organized trips, independent study, and informal programs.

The first Intersession took place from January 5 through 30, 1970. It included approximately 250 offerings from over 340 faculty. Just under half of the undergraduates participated. The organized courses included Fortran Computer Programming, Black Political Modernization, Automotive Design, Basic Swahili, Introduction to Investment Markets, Art and Science of Museum Display, Adaptation to the Environment, Sports Officiating Techniques, Studies in the Homeric Odyssey, Television Program Production, Two Major Critiques of American Education, Political Poetry, Phosphate Water Pollution Problem, Frontiers of Macromolecular Science, Geology of the Moon, Computers and People, Health of American Cities. Organized trips included visits to Boston, London, and Paris.

By 1974 the Intersession Committee noted the challenges to Intersession posed by a changing campus environment, “The student body has shrunk, academic departments have come under severe budgetary stress, faculty are overcommitted.” [1] The Committee recommended that either Intersession be abolished or that student and department participation become mandatory.

Intersession’s last year was 1976. In proposing Intersession’s abolishment, B. S. Chandrasekhar, then Dean of Western Reserve College, explained, “ During all these years that it has been with us, [Intersession] has faiied to achieve a sufficiently coherent philosophy in terms of what it is supposed to be, so that perceptions and expectations are intolerably divergent as between the Colleges and among the students, teachers, and administrators, and it therefore commands inadequate support from all of them. At the same time, with no redeeming aspects, we have shortened the regular semesters to a dangerous point.” [3] On January 13, 1976 the Faculty Senate voted 34-7 to abolish Intersession and to adopt an academic calendar of two semesters, each with a minimum of fifteen weeks.

[1. The Second Report of the Intersession Committee to the Representative Assemblies for Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve College, July 1, 1974]
[2. Report of the Joint Curriculum Committee... Appendix B]
[3. Memorandum, B. S. Chandrasekhar to Faculty Senate, January 1976]

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Jane Sestak in Circus Techniques course, Intersession 1973

Posted by jmt3 at January 28, 2011 04:34 PM

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