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Calendar Proposal FAQs (Winter 2016)

View the Spring 2016 Updates for current information on the Task Force recommendations.

In January the Faculty Undergraduate Academic Experience Task Force delivered its final report, which includes valuable insights and recommendations on how to enhance the undergraduate academic experience. One of its more significant proposals includes the recommendation to modify the academic calendar.

What is the calendar proposal?

The recommendation is to implement a modified quarter system with a 10-5-5-10 calendar. As it does today, the academic year would be composed of three 10-week quarters, but it would start and end approximately five weeks earlier. Winter quarter would consist of two five-week sessions, separated by a midwinter break that would include Christmas and New Year’s.

Why consider changing Northwestern’s calendar?

The Task Force began its work by reading the work of the last group convened to study the undergraduate academic experience, which delivered its final report in 1988, and faculty chose to use categories identified in that report to form subcommittees, including one on the calendar. The current proposal to modify the calendar arose from Task Force’s goal to address some of the challenges with the current calendar in addition to possible new opportunities to enhance students’ academic experience. These were all identified in discussions with students, faculty and staff. Generally, the proposed calendar may address some of the challenges many students face as a result of the late school year. By aligning the academic calendar with other institutions’ calendars, students would gain more time for career fairs at the beginning of the year and facilitated participation in summer opportunities or full-time employment at the end of the year. Details on these challenges and opportunities are outlined in the Task Force final report.

The faculty Task Force final report outlines a sample 10-5-5-10 calendar. Is this the calendar that would be implemented if the decision is made to move forward?

Not necessarily. The Task Force outlined a calendar with exemplar dates to provide those reading the report with a general concept of what was being proposed. Should Northwestern move forward with a modified quarter system, the beginning, end, and breaks within the academic year would necessarily be further evaluated and aligned for long-term viability. Further student, faculty, and staff input regarding specific details would be sought. Impacts to factors critical to the student experience and administrative units, such as advising, the registrar system, and financial aid, would need to be examined fully.

Will the calendar proposal require existing courses to be restructured?

As conceived, the 10-5-5-10 calendar should be compatible with existing course structures. Any current 10-week winter course could be taught as a 10-week winter course that would simply start and end earlier, spanning the midwinter break. The potential for a 5-5 winter quarter, however, would allow for faculty innovation and student flexibility in course structures by creating the possibility of new five-week courses, as well as the traditional 10-week course.  The proposed calendar may also permit 15-week courses in some cases by combining the 10-week quarter with a five-week session. A phased approach to such a change, i.e., adopting certain components of the recommendation before others to enable a transition, may be considered.

How will the President and Provost make a decision on whether to move forward with the modified calendar?

President Schapiro and Provost Linzer appreciate the time that the Task Force spent engaging constituencies across the University to develop its recommendation as well as its work to examine potential implications of a calendar change. Now, as the community explores the proposal, each school’s faculty has been asked for input. Led by the Associated Student Government, students’ input is also being sought. Individuals may provide input and suggestions directly by emailing  Information and perspectives from all of these sources will form the basis for making a decision on whether or not to move forward.  

What is the timeline for making a decision?

The calendar proposal is innovative and ambitious. Given the transformational nature of the recommendation, the soonest a modified calendar would be implemented would be the fall of 2018, which would require a decision on whether to move forward no later than summer 2016.

The calendar is just one of many recommendations the faculty Task Force put forth. What is happening with the other proposals?

The Task Force recommendations will be considered individually, and each will generate institutional dialogue in a variety of settings. Consideration of some proposals is already underway or ready for an existing working group to develop. Examples include: (a) the creation of a personalized advising site to coordinate student-adviser interactions, and (b) the recommendations on learning outcomes and assessment. Other recommendations, including the calendar change, will require examination and study to determine whether we will move forward, as well as planning and coordination with complementary proposals should we proceed. Finally, some recommendations may have longer timelines — or may not move to formal implementation — as we balance the benefits of adopting various recommendations with the demands of ongoing projects and activities. The Northwestern community can expect additional updates as we proceed to translate the Task Force’s important work into action that enhances the undergraduate academic experience.