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The Endless Winterim

Winterim Teams.jpgThe endless Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s break that Jim Kim and Carol Folt put into place, supposedly to save money, is an ongoing train wreck. Lasting this year from November 22-January 3 — an interminable six weeks — we’ve written how the gap drains the economic life out of Hanover. EBA’s was one notable casualty.

However, students are the losers, too. The Dartmouth Plan quarter system is already a sprint, and the absence of any significant reading period at the end of term (two days is too little too late) limits learning at the most productive time of the term.

There are other casualties, as well. It seems that about 600 students remain on campus towards the end of November. Numerous varsity teams are in town: sixty swimmers were here until mid-December; the men’s basketball team played in Leede on December 22, and they played again on the 30th, and the women ballers have games all month; the track team had a meet on December 9th; and both the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams played several games in December.

In addition, a great many international and low-income students don’t have the resources to head home, leaving them marooned and bored in Hanover.

Curiously enough, all students on campus are allowed to stay in their usual dorm rooms, so buildings that are mostly empty still need to be heated and lit. The dining hall is not open during the break, so many students get a voucher for one meal/day at Skinny Pancake (now that EBA’s is no more) or are provided with College money to pay for other ways to feed themselves. Who said anything about cost savings?

In the end, you have to ask just what is the benefit of this lengthy break? Behind the scenes, there are a good number of faculty members who enjoy teaching two terms in a row (barely twenty-two weeks, including the break), and then having the next thirty weeks off. But many others recognize the harm that the endless interim does to students and their learning.

A good President would fix the problem in short order.

Addendum: When I first met with Carolyn Dever shortly following her arrival at the College, I brought up the College’s curious academic calendar. “What’s with that crazy, six-week break?” she exclaimed. But, needless to say, she did nothing about the problem (or any other).

Addendum: Coaches whose athletes are not on campus for winterim complain that their athletes return to campus after six weeks having lost a fair amount of conditioning.

Addendum: An ideal calendar would have fall term ending after mid-December (like the other Ivies). Each term would have a full five-day reading period and three days for examinations.

Addendum: The D has a summary of games and events by various Dartmouth teams during the winter break: Winter break recap 2017: 10 Big Green teams see action between terms.

Addendum: A parent writes in:

Today’s article about the break was right on. My daughter was the only person in her dorm after the other kids left for break. The only student! Another athlete came and stayed with her, as her own dorm was almost completely empty, also. This semester started 1-3-2018, and her final final is March 12. 69 days! That’s absurd. More cramming and less learning and experiencing school. Also, she received a stipend for one meal per day. We footed the bill for the rest. That doesn’t sound right. She is at school representing Dartmouth, and it costs us extra. Four weeks of food. She had to be at school for swim practice on 12-30-2017. She was happy to be back at school with her friends.

There are just a few things that need to be changed to make Dartmouth so much better. Believe me, I am grateful, as is my daughter, that she is at Dartmouth.

A to do list: 1) Change the length of the semester. 2) A hiring freeze for everyone but teachers/professors. 3) Preferred parking for teachers/professors. Even over the administrative staff.

Does Phil even have a list of priorities? Student education should be number 1 by a mile. Everything else is down the list. Everything.

A survey should go to all students. Then to all faculty. Then to all administrators. Separate surveys with the same questions. No results released until all of the results are in. It would be interesting to see what students, faculty, administrators, etc., thought that Dartmouth’s priorities should be. And how best to achieve them.

Addendum: An alumnus offers a differing point of view:

While the winter break is long, I think your piece misses a few key benefits of the long break.

1) For West Coast-based students, the Thanksgiving break immediately before the end of the term was not feasible to go home and return to campus for finals. Before the changeover part-way through my Dartmouth career, I never made it home to SF — I was lucky enough to get myself invited to other families celebrations closer to campus, but know quite a few people who we’re not able to leave Hanover. While your idea to end later could solve some of the two trips in two weeks phenomenon, you would end up just shortening the break and starting even later in the fall (we already start a month later than many of our peers), both of which are unappealing to students. Shorter break at Christmas, while inconsequential would be a negative talking point for students making decisions and longer break over the summer is hard to fill with internships etc. as it does not line up with other schools and intern programs are often set up as ten weeks June-mid august.

2) For many current students, I’ve heard the winter break being used for externships and job shadows for four weeks before the holidays, adding to the flexibility of D-Plan to get students work experience before they start in the real world. The College could and should be advertising this potential and asking alums to take on students where possible.

Addendum: A senior Professor in Environmental Engineering writes in:

I was at one of the meetings when the idea of the Winterim was being discussed with the faculty. When the proponents of the idea mentioned that carbon dioxide emissions would be curbed by students not getting back (some across country) to campus after Thanksgiving, I pointed out that studies have shown that, when you try to save travel to people, they don’t travel less, they travel elsewhere. I got the dirty stares and was pretty much laughed at. Since then, I have been asking students every time I have a chance to test my hypothesis, and I can most firmly claim from compelling evidence that I was right. Students either return to campus for activities other than courses or travel to other destinations. Our atmosphere has no less CO2.

Addendum: A parent writes in:

As a California resident, I was initially in favor of the new schedule, since I was looking forward to having my daughter (and assistant chef) home for Thanksgiving for the first time in four years. That was nice, but six weeks was just too long for everyone. In retrospect, I’m glad she had the three years under the old schedule, and it was no great hardship to have Thanksgiving with my brother & family in Philadelphia or to go home with an East Coast classmate.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

Unless I am mistaken, the term was not shortened but rather starts ~2 weeks earlier in September. See below.

— Fall 2010 was Sept 22 - Dec 8 or 11 weeks minus a week off at Thanksgiving.

— Fall 2017 was sept 11 to Nov 22 or 10 weeks.

The too short term is Winter term (~9 weeks), but you can’t extend that more unless you think we should start Christmas week or push back Spring term & graduation even further than other schools.

While I agree the terms are short, the benefits of only 2-4 classes per quarter (effective trimester) vs 4-5 semester outweigh the costs in my experience (with the possible exception of lab sciences which can be difficult to teach in a compressed period).


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