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Semester vs. quarter?


UCLA Today

Semesters or quarters -- under which academic calendar should UCLA operate?

Campuswide discussion of UCLA’s academic calendar began last week with the release of a comprehensive report Nov. 12 by a joint Academic Senate/administration committee that assesses how a change to semesters might affect UCLA. The report focuses on three central areas of concern: curriculum, faculty and students.

“There are many opinions on campus about whether the quarter system or the semester is best for UCLA's educational mission, but one thing is clear: There is certainly interest in revisiting the subject,” said Judi Smith, co-chair of the Academic Calendar Committee and vice provost for undergraduate education.

“We want to encourage discussion about all of the important issues involving semesters vs. quarters -- in particular how each system affects the educational experience,” said Smith.
Recent interest in considering the semester system emerged during the Chancellor's Leadership Retreat in September 2001, when faculty and administrators discussed the challenges of improving student writing and learning during a session on undergraduate education.

The academic calendar review began last January, with the appointment of the joint committee, with Smith and Raymond Knapp as co-chairs, and 10 faculty and administrators as members. Knapp is chair of the Academic Senate’s Undergraduate Council and a professor of musicology.

“The group focused on several issues,” said Knapp. “However, much of the discussion centered on the pace of learning and teaching under the quarter system. The group came away believing that UCLA should consider, once again, converting to a semester calendar.”
The committee’s report “does not present a recommendation about whether or not UCLA should convert to semesters -- in fact, we were not asked to do so,” said Knapp. “The report explores the advantages and disadvantages of each system.”

The report analyzes the effects, pro and con, that changing the academic calendar would have on the quality of teaching and research, as well as the costs and effects on the welfare of faculty, students, and staff.

The University of California campuses began operating under the quarter system in 1966. Since then, several proposals at both UCLA and the systemwide level have considered shifting back to a semester system. UC Berkeley returned to semesters in 1983; at UCLA, the schools of law and medicine use the semester calendar.

What committee members hope will take place over the coming academic year is a careful, informed discussion of the issues by the Academic Senate, administration and students, said Knapp.

“By the end of the academic year, the consultation process should be completed, and the Senate should be ready to offer recommendations about how to proceed -- not only regarding the academic calendar, but also about a broad range of related curricular issues.”
For a related story on the Legislative Assembly’s discussion of the report, see page 2. To download a copy, or to review background information about the project, visit

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