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05/10/94

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Commission on Undergraduate Education recommends modifications to academic calendar

STANFORD -- The Commission on Undergraduate Education has decided to recommend some modifications to the academic calendar, but not to endorse a switch from the quarter to the semester system, said history Professor James Sheehan, commission chair.

At its meeting Monday, May 9, the commission proposed maintaining two Dead Days - that is, days without classes - each quarter and starting the academic year early enough each year to allow for a three-week winter break.

The commission chose not to recommend the change to a semester system, Sheehan said, even though many of its members, himself included, think that such a system would be better.

The weight of inertia is against making the change, he said, and if the commission recommended the semester system, it would have to shape all of its other recommendations to fit that change. "We thought that would be very risky," Sheehan said, particularly in view of the fact that most administrators are not persuaded that there is much savings in a semester, versus a quarter, system.

The commission began its meeting by looking at the question of academic credit and decided to recommend denying academic credit for "activities" courses, such as participating in varsity sports, Sheehan said. Currently, students may count 12 units from such activities courses toward the 180 units needed for graduation.

In fact, Sheehan said, the overwhelming majority of students graduate with more than 180 units and do not need the 12 "activity" units. Nevertheless, he said, "it seemed to us to be worthwhile to make a distinction between what is academic and what isn't."

In addition, the commission recommended that all courses taken for a letter grade have some sort of product that can be evaluated, Sheehan said. That product could be a paper, a painting, a portfolio or a final examination, he said. "But there has to be an evaluative produces and something has to be judged."

The commission also expressed concern that courses carrying the same number of units require the same amount of work. The commission wants to encourage faculty to look at what they're doing, Sheehan said, and to think about whether the number of units offered by a particular course might go up or down.

Finally, the commission looked at ways to increase the academic value of the summer quarter, Sheehan said, perhaps by reducing tuition or encouraging professors to stay on campus and teach. There is "a lot of unused capacity in the plant" during the summer, he said, and about one-quarter of Stanford undergraduates study somewhere during the summer.

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