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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

The (New) Calendar Canon

May-June 2004

The process has been served. It took a 40-page report, delivered on March 22, but the Harvard University Committee on Calendar Reform, by an 18-1 vote, has found a way to coordinate all the schools' diverse academic schedules—almost. (The text is available at www.provost.harvard.edu/reports/.)

Under the direction of Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba, a government scholar and director of the University Library, the committee recommended a "common curricular framework." The principal features include:

*beginning instruction in early September, immediately after Labor Day;

*concluding fall semester exams (and reading period, for schools that observe one) before the winter break;

*concluding the academic year and Commencement by the end of May; and

*coordinating vacations, such as Thanksgiving and spring break.

The proposal also envisions a flexible module in January, devoted to special classes, research, field work, study abroad, "structured intersession experiences," or simply an extended winter break. The compression or extension of this period would accommodate both curricular innovation, of the sort the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is exploring in its review of the College course of study, and other uses that facilitate calendar coordination while respecting the schools' various pedagogical needs.

The chief academic benefit of a coordinated schedule, the committee reported, is easing cross registration and joint programs between and among faculties and other institutions, such as MIT. The two undergraduate members (there were also three graduate and professional students) cited the desirability of a winter vacation unencumbered by preparation for exams, and the intellectual value of bringing fall-term instruction and exams closer together. An earlier Commencement might also help students land summer jobs and internships.

Because several faculties are busy with curricular reviews (FAS plus the schools of divinity, education, and medicine), the committee recommended that any decisions on implementing its guidelines await completion of these "curricular judgments," a matter thought to be of particular importance "with respect to how the January time period will be used." Maier professor of political economy Benjamin M. Friedman, the lone dissenter to the final report, expressed particular concern about how that "January term" might be used; he wrote that "it makes no sense to change the FAS calendar to pave the way for a curriculum change that we haven't decided to make."

Hence the delay in implementation until the conclusion of the curricular reviews, a position with which the president, provost, and deans expressed their agreement in a common statement. They also noted that the last of said reviews, in FAS, should conclude by the end of the 2004-2005 academic year.