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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]

Jane Sestak in Circus Techniques course, Intersession 1973

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January 20, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. convocations at CWRU

The first university convocation held to honor the memory of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was Thursday, April 11, 1968. The first annual convocation to honor Dr. King was held Monday, January 18, 1988.

At the 1968 convocation, just a week after King’s assassination, Chancellor John S. Millis presided and Professor John Turner, a fellow alumnus of Morehouse College and personal friend of Dr. King’s, was the principal speaker. Rabbi Bernard Martin gave the invocation and benediction. The Case Glee Club, under the direction of William Appling, sang a hymn and Lois Winckler, president of Mather Student Government, made remarks. As the announcement stated, “This was the first such event on the campus commemorating a non-University leader since the memorial convocation for President John F. Kennedy.”

The annual convocations generally feature an address by a main speaker, opening remarks by the university president, and music and song. Featured speakers have included clergy (such as The Right Reverend Arthur B. Williams, Jr., Reverend Marvin McMickle, Reverend Dr. Otis Moss, Jr.), and scholars (such as Aldon Morris, Samuel Proctor, Nikki Giovanni, and Joan Southgate).

In fall of 1996 an essay contest was introduced for the 1997 convocation. Prizes were awarded in 3 categories (faculty, staff, student). First place winners read their essays at the annual convocation. Over time, only one essay was read at the convocation.

Over the years, the commemoration of Dr. King and his legacy has grown from a single university convocation to a series of events over a week. From lectures and films to exhibits, poetry readings and concerts, sponsoring organizations and departments span the campus (e.g., University Program Board, African American Society, Case Democrats and Case Republicans, Office of the President, Student Affairs, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Kelvin Smith Library, and academic departments and centers.

The events usually take place during the week of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in January. President Ronald Reagan signed the 1983 law creating the national holiday, which was first observed in 1986.

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January 14, 2011

Science Fiction Film Marathon

“Friday, January 30 is the day the earth stands still, worlds collide and time stands still for Cleveland’s first 24 Hour Science Fiction Film Marathon...” This modest 1976 press release from the CWRU Office of Public Information announced the beginning of a 36-year (and counting) CWRU tradition.


Held at Strosacker Auditorium, the first 24-hour Science Fiction Film Marathon began at 8 p.m. on Friday with a showing of The Day the Earth Stood Still and ended with Dark Star at 9:45 p.m. on Saturday. Other films included Westworld, When Worlds Collide, Fahrenheit 451, The Time Machine, Silent Running, Island of Lost Souls, The Lost World, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Andromeda Strain, Metropolis, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Barbarella, Forbidden Planet, and This island Earth. Admission was $1.00.

As with many traditions, some elements are constant. The location remains Strosacker Auditorium. The sponsor remains the CWRU Film Society. The time remains mid-January. And some elements change. Prices increase: $1 in 1976, $10 by 1987, $15 in 1993, $25 by 2002. Cartoons and short subjects were added in 1990.

An impressive variety of films spanning nine decades have been shown, including The Lost World (1925), The Walking Dead (1936), The Invisible Woman (1941), Forbidden Planet (1956), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Slaughterhouse Five (1972), Aliens (1986), Tremors (1990). A perennial favorite has been Metropolis, which was shown in 1976, 1991, 2002, and maybe more. The Archives collection of Science Fiction Film Marathon posters and flyers is incomplete. Additions to the collection from film-buffs would be most welcome.

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January 05, 2011

Youth and The Searcher

Did you ever wonder about some of the figures that appear on campus buildings? Do these figures mean anything? Two such figures appear on the Smith Building and Tomlinson Hall.

When entering the Albert W. Smith Chemical Engineering Building, above the original 1939 entrance is a figure of youth. There is a brazier at his feet evolving into a flame supporting an evaporating dish. In his left hand is a test tube and in his right, a stirring rod. This building was originally built for the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering department at Case School of Applied Science.

Another even more asked about figure is the one above the main entrance to Tomlinson Hall. Some have called this figure a Viking, and campus myth has that it was there to counter the gargoyle on the tower of Amasa Stone Chapel. This figure is actually called “The Searcher.” The architect, Frank Rhinehart of Walker & Weeks Architects, stated, “In modelling this figure, we have endeavored to tell a story of ‘The Searcher’ ever searching for new things in the world and in science that make for a better world in which all society may live and prosper.”

University Historian Richard Baznik included both figures in his Campus Markings contests. The youth figure appeared in the first contest and The Searcher appeared in the second contest.

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