Valparaiso University is planning to implement several changes to its academic calendar, which will go into effect for the for the 2020 school year. These changes come on the heels of a much larger calendar overhaul that occurred a year or two ago. A likely change amongst the bunch is one that is still being discussed; the shortening of the finals schedule from five days to four. This idea was bounced around while the calendar was being remodeled, but more student and faculty opinion was required to make the decision.
Rick Gillman, the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs, has been heavily involved in gauging campus opinion.
“Somewhere the suggestion came that now that we have all of our finals in the new calendar between Monday and Friday, why don’t we put them on four days of the week rather than five?” Gillman said.
The Committee to Enhance Learning and Teaching (CELT) looked into how this idea could be fit into the schedule and the way that similar institutions scheduled their own finals. Their research determined that a third of the sampled universities had four days of finals instead of five. They also found that VU’s schedule could be squeezed into four days by implementing twenty minute instead of thirty minute periods between tests. This information was brought to both the Faculty Senate and Student Senate, who had concerns about the impact on students requiring accommodations.
Christina Hearne, Director of the Access and Accommodations Resource Center, believes having a shorter period between test times will have a negligible effect on those needing assistance. Another faculty concern was increased stress and decreased test scores caused by a shorter finals period.
“We still have a rule that says you only have to have two [finals] in a day,” said Gillman. That rule, according to Gillman, is not changing. What’s changing is the time students have in between the finals they may have that day.
“That question is fundamentally untestable, they were worried about student performance on the exams but again that’s also untestable. What do you compare that to? All I, or anybody can say is that at least a third of our peer institutions don’t perceive this as a problem. If they thought it was a problem, they wouldn’t do it, they’d go five days,” said Gillman.
A survey collected commuter senators, Duaa Hijaz and Jen Stanton, of the Student Senate found that of 220 responses, 70% of commuter students were in favor of shortening the finals period to four days. Through CELT, the Faculty and Student Senate, Gillman has determined three benefits of shortening the finals schedule, while negative effects appear to be minimal.
“Benefit number one is it lets many more students leave campus a day earlier, everybody would be done on Thursday rather than Friday. At Christmas time, you could all go home a day sooner. In the summer if you’re not graduating and staying for commencement, again you’d be off, you’d have a three day weekend and then you’re ready to move on a Monday into whatever your summer is with a three day weekend rather than a two day weekend,” said Gillman. “From a student’s end they get to go home a day sooner. [Secondly] We talked to the RA and the student housing dining service and this gives them one more day to do their shutdown and clean up. It’s not over the weekend so for the RAs and the residence hall, everybody moves out. Thirdly, it would give faculty a business day, that Friday, to actually do their grading. Grades are due on Monday at noon and right now many faculty spend the weekend grading and it would enable them to use that Friday for that.”
While Gillman, and many others, seem to be in favor, the decision is left to University Registrar employee Stephanie Martin. University rules state that the Registrar has final say over any changes to the academic calendar. However, it is unlikely that the decision will go against the vote of the Faculty Senate, which has yet to vote on the matter, or the Student Senate which ruled in favor of making the change 23-0-1.
“We try to do things by consensus on campus so we solicit as much input and feedback as we can. The concerns of both senate bodies are reasonable concerns and we have to think about that,” Gillman said.
The finalized changes include Labor Day becoming an institutional holiday, summer courses will be the start of the school year instead of the end and the spring calendar will be shortened in length to match the fall schedule. With the new spring calendar becoming the same length as the fall, there is an ‘extra’ Thursday where classes will not be held. Instead, the day will be used as a celebration for musical performances, senior recitals, and the Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE). These changes will be implemented for the 2020 school year, while the shorter finals schedule must wait for official approval from the Registrar before it can be implemented into the academic calendar.