After the pandemic, can we keep the COVID-19 schedule and add a December Term?

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One of the blessings of this horrible pandemic will, I hope, be that it gets us out of some of our ruts. At Stanford, I have come to think that we should adopt the current academic year’s calendar permanently — starting a week earlier in September and a week later in January, and canceling Finals Weeks, except that we could make use of the weeks after Thanksgiving to create a new “December Term” that would take the place of our three Final Exam weeks. A three-week period that would begin sometime from Nov. 26 to Dec. 2, and would end sometime from Dec. 13 to the 19, could be used for intensive classes, field research work, public service, extracurricular activities or just a period of rest, depending on the desires of different students and faculty. 

COVID-19 has taught us, I think, that we don’t need Finals Week. Few students or faculty ever liked it, but now Finals Week really seems like a vestige of the idea that students spend the term going to lectures and learning, in preparation for one big test at the end that is timed and administered to all students in a class simultaneously. Many (most?) of us no longer think that’s an effective way to learn or to evaluate students, preferring more continuous assessments that happen throughout the quarter. So if we don’t need Finals Week, why not just get rid of it? 

I think this idea is attractive for multiple reasons:

  • Starting in mid- instead of late-September would allow fall quarter to end before Thanksgiving and so would avoid the awkward interruption of the term and what is, for many, a somewhat depressing return to finish papers and finals following a festive week.
  • Starting winter quarter a week later (e.g. Jan. 11 this year instead of the usual Jan. 4) would, in regular times, provide time to recover from New Year’s and other holidays, and would allow students and faculty in some disciplines to attend important conferences that happen in the first week of January before (rather than during) the first week of classes.
  • Canceling Finals Week in spring quarter would allow students to go home (or to a summer job) sooner, which would make up for the lost week in September.
  • The seven-week period between the end of fall quarter and the beginning of winter quarter could be used, in addition to a three-week December term, for extended work, activities, research travel and family time, flexibly depending on one’s other commitments during those weeks. 

My guess is that others have been thinking along similar lines. This idea is just too obvious. But I hope the administration of Stanford will consider doing this, or something like it, when things return to “normal.”  

–Todd Davies (’84, M.S. ’85, Ph.D. ’95), Associate Director and Lecturer, Symbolic Systems Program

Contact Todd Davies at davies ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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