By Monica Chapman
During yesterday's Academic Affairs Committee meeting, Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl updated board members on recent developments that have made a semester system appear more viable.
Krendl cited broad conversations with the university community, a university-wide committee report, academic benefits and University System of Ohio recommendations as steps leading up her, President Roderick J. McDavis and the deans recommending a transition to semesters. Planning would begin this fall and involve a wide contingency of people on campus to shape the decisions and processes.
Of Ohio's four-year public universities, all but Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio State and Wright State are on semesters. Krendl referenced a joint memorandum from the four universities' presidents to Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, which indicated that a coordinated response to the call for a common academic calendar is likely.
Trustee and committee chair M. Marnette Perry asked Krendl whether the chancellor might make the transition to semesters mandatory. Krendl said the chancellor's recommendation falls short of an outright edict at this point but that states have been known to mandate a switch.
Krendl believes that should the transition to semesters become a reality, the university would have plenty of models upon which to draw.
"Many institutions have made the transition successfully. Ohio University will use work of other institutions to shape our process," said Krendl, adding that many Ohio University staff members have already been through a semester transition at other institutions and several have offered their help for the potential transition.
Among the universities operating on the quarter system, Ohio University and the University of Cincinnati have made the greatest strides toward planning, having developed university-wide task forces to address the change. The University of Cincinnati task force focused on the transition process, whereas Ohio University's task force formed earlier to determine if a change was warranted, Krendl said.
A committee representing university stakeholders will be formed in the fall to address the transition process. Per the recommendation of the senate chairs, Krendl said, the committee will be modeled after the five-year academic action plan committee.
"The reason ... is because the feedback that we got, to a member, was great," Krendl explained. "(The senate chairs) said that was the best exercise in terms of shared government and in terms of real input."
The transition committee will be charged with developing an effective curriculum conversion process, aligning the transition with the soon-to-be implemented SIS system, and ensuring that students enrolled during the transition process will not experience difficulties in completing their degrees. The costs of the switch, the length of the transition and workload issues for faculty and staff will all undergo careful consideration before any final decisions.
In response to a round of questions about how the change would affect such wide-ranging things as student-faculty ratios and down time for staff projects, Krendl said that she did not expect much impact.
"The idea is to keep all of this as neutral as possible," Krendl said.
She also stressed that students' needs will come first.
"Our goal is, in every way possible, that this works successfully for students... We don't want to compromise the students' ability to successfully graduate on time."
Student Trustee Tracy Kelly also asked about costs, expressing concern that some estimates have been extremely high. Krendl said best estimates can be drawn from institutions that have made the transition. Reports range between $250,000 and $500,000.The University of Cincinnati is estimating its cost at $13 million because it is including an SIS upgrade in the figure.
Although solid estimates can only come after detailed planning, Krendl said she believes it may cost more than $500,000 but nothing near the University of Cincinnati figure.
In response to questions about timing and concerns that the public believes the decision is already final, Krendl said that October 2008 is the earliest that the university could have a resolution to bring before the board.
The starting point for a serious examination of the academic system began in 2006 when McDavis' launched the Academic Calendar and System Committee. He asked the group of 20 individuals representing all university constituents to recommend whether the university should stay on 10-week quarters or switch to 15-week semesters. This marked the fourth time in some 30 years that the university had formally considered an academic system change.
After a six-month study, the committee reported in July 2007 that it was deadlocked on the quarters-or-semesters question. Though it put forth no firm recommendation, the committee expressed preference for a significant mid-year break and an earlier end to the academic year.
Following that, McDavis and Krendl spent the past academic year discussing with faculty, students, staff and administrators the question of which academic system would best allow the university to realize the goals of Vision OHIO.
All told, studies and input revealed generally that graduate students, staff and administrators prefer semesters, while undergraduates prefer quarters. Ohio University faculty is split on the decision. The college deans unanimously support semesters. Krendl said that 70 percent of institutions nationwide are on semesters.