Harvard College Won't Offer Programming for January "Experience"

At least for January 2010, the first break in the calendar created by the University's new academic schedule, Harvard College has announced it will not offer courses or other programs.

In an e-mail message to students, faculty, and staff members today, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) dean Michael D. Smith and Harvard College dean Evelynn M. Hammonds announced that the January "experience" or "term" created by the new University calendar, beginning with  the 2009-2010 academic year, will not include Harvard-sponsored mini courses, innovative short-form academic experiences, or organized international or extracurricular activities. Instead, the time that has been made available as a result of moving fall-term reading period and examinations before the Christmas-New  Year's holiday has become an extended vacation in 2010. 

According to their announcement,

During the first part of this period, over the holidays, from December 22, 2009, through January 9, 2010, Harvard College will be closed. Thereafter, from January 10 through January 22, only students with a recognized and pre-approved need to be on campus will be permitted to return to College housing. Students with a need to be on campus may potentially include varsity athletes, international students, thesis writers, students conducting lab-based research, and others who cannot reasonably accomplish their work in another location. Freshman dorms and upper-class Houses will be open to all students beginning January 23, 2010, and the first day of classes for the second semester will be Monday, January 25, 2010.

Implicit in the arrangements described above is our decision not to create a separate, structured "January experience" with programming offered by the College. We have made this decision for important reasons. The global economic crisis has forced Harvard, like all universities, to evaluate its priorities and focus on programs and functions that are central to its mission. One of our very top priorities is to strengthen the undergraduate experience--both in curricular and co-curricular dimensions. We are concerned that mounting a new, compressed, short-term set of offerings in January--particularly at a time when resources are highly constrained--would in fact distract from the College's focus on other more central aspects of the undergraduate experience.

During their deliberations on the new general-education curriculum and their discussion of the calendar change, FAS members had raised the idea of exploring noncredit short courses, structuring nonacademic experiences, or organizing travel-based or other participatory programs, but little actual planning had advanced, and Smith earlier this academic year told colleagues that any such programs would have to be essentially costless, given the financial pressures facing the University.

The decision apparently governs only next January at this point; depending on the availability of resources in the future, it could presumably be revisited. In the meantime, Smith and Hammonds wrote, they will focus on improving the core elements of the undergraduate experience, such as full-scale implementation of the new general-education curriculum beginning this fall (for background, see this Harvard Magazine article). In the meantime, they observed, 

[W]e view the extended winter break as an exciting opportunity for students to pursue a range of off-campus activities that are of educational or personal interest to them.  Students may choose activities that best suit their individual situations, whether spending time with family and friends or pursuing research, service, internships, travel, or other activities.  As it does for the summer break, the College will work with students to identify interesting opportunities and help them make the connections to pursue them.

The 2009-2010 academic year will represent our first opportunity to observe how students and faculty choose to use the extended mid-year break. We expect to learn a great deal, including how to best encourage students to use the time in beneficial ways. Next year will teach us a great deal and will inform decisions about how best to organize this period in the future.

The message is silent on financial-aid concerns (and on room-and-board contracts); implicit is the decision that activities such as "pursuing research, service, internships, travel, or other activities" will have to be undertaken as a personal venture.






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