University of California at Berkeley

Can We Improve the Academic Calendar?

 by Fernando Quintero

Does it seem like the fall semester goes on forever? Does the start of the term leave you scrambling for child care? Do your summer family vacations get cut short because instruction on campus begins weeks before other schools?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, now is the time to let your opinions be heard.

The Academic Senate is currently taking suggestions on how to improve the academic calendar. For a number of years, faculty members have expressed their dissatisfaction with the current calendar as it affects them professionally and personally. Last spring, the senate formed an ad hoc committee to look into the matter.

"It was one of those things where everybody complains, but nobody does anything about it," said Alison Gopnik, associate psychology professor and a member of the calendar committee along with Economics Professor Robert Anderson and English Professor Anne Middleton.

The committee's report on the calendar concluded that both the current system and new options have advantages and disadvantages. Before a recommendation is made, the council decided to open up the item for discussion among the faculty, students, staff and the administration.

"We identified the feeling we have that the fall term goes on forever is justified. We have a longer fall term of study than any other major university. Basically, no other university starts so early," said Gopnik.

Part of the reason is that state legislative mandates require a longer amount of teaching time (146 instructional days). Various contract terms also require that the entire academic year calendar be encompassed within a period of no more than 40 continuous weeks.

Problems that arise from the campus's relatively early start include: out of synchronization with summer research and annual funding schedules as well as with K-12 schools, causing child care gaps and vacation disparities; large disparities with academic calendars at other universities, including other UC campuses, causing difficulties in transferring and sharing programs and personnel; and a fall term of more than 17 weeks with no significant break, causing high stress for students and faculty before the winter holidays.

The three options proposed by the calendar committee are:

o A two-semester calendar that begins after Labor Day, completes all introduction of new material before the winter holiday break and has fall finals (after a one-week period of review) after Christmas.

o A return to the quarter system used at Berkeley from 1966-1983, beginning in September and ending in June.

o A division of the year into two 12-week terms and one spring six-week mini-term, beginning in mid-September and completing fall finals before the winter holiday break, with spring terms ending in late April, followed by a mini-term ending in mid-June. The latter could be used for half-courses, intensive courses or smaller seminars diffi-cult to schedule in other terms.

Suggestions about the proposed retooling of the academic calendar should be sent via e-mail to or campus mail to Anne Middleton, Ad Hoc Committee on the Academic Calendar, c/o the Academic Senate, 320 Stephens Hall.

The calendar committee's report is also available on the Academic Senate's new campus web site.


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