Last month, the University’s Ad Hoc Committee on Calendar Reform released a final survey to gather student opinions on proposed calendar reforms, most notably a plan to move fall exams before winter break. Additional calendar reforms include advancing the beginning of fall classes to the first week of September; creating a two-week non-credit Wintersession in January; moving spring semester up by one week; and implementing a seven-day final exam period in both semesters. The Board generally praises the proposed reforms—particularly highlighting the benefits of taking final exams before winter break—and further suggests that classes begin in the last week of August and that Wintersession be shortened to 1 week, thus allowing a two-week final exam period in both semesters.
Moving final exams to before winter break will allow more symmetry between semesters, increase academic fairness, and improve student’s mental health. Currently, Princeton’s fall semester takes place over a longer span of time than its spring semester. Additionally, fall semester breaks are more frequent and lengthy than spring semester breaks. Certain courses are taught both fall and spring semester, and some students may elect to take a course in the fall because of the additional study time. Freshman writing seminars and Woodrow Wilson School junior year task forces are assigned randomly to the fall or spring semester, and are examples of random disparities in student’s current academic experiences. Reforming the calendar would alleviate these problems, creating parity between the semesters and eliminating imbalances in course difficulty across terms. In addition, all students currently face anxiety over winter break due to the anticipation of January finals. Moving finals to before winter break would diminish this stressed period, and improve overall student mental health.
In addition to ensuring academic fairness and improving student mental health, moving finals before winter break would have several social benefits. In November and December, students are often less engaged in their classwork because they expect to study over winter break and January. Further, students, particularly freshmen, often find their fall semester socially disruptive due to the amount of time on and off campus. A reformed calendar would allow for increased student engagement in precepts towards the end of the fall semester, and for the formation of richer friendships. In addition, Princeton’s current calendar makes it challenging for students to study abroad in the spring at universities that begin in January.
Beyond a revised final exam schedule, the proposed calendar offers many other improvements. The non-credit Wintersession gives the opportunity for interested students to learn supplemental material. Popular suggestions have already been made for short workshops in R, Python, or digital media. Further, Princeton’s new calendar would align it closer to most other American universities. While on break, students are often unable to see high school friends due to differently timed schedules. Reforming the calendar would move up each semester by one week, allowing students to maintain old friendships, and possibly travel together for spring break.
We propose one alteration to the current calendar: moving the start date of the academic calendar to the last week of August instead of early September. The proposed calendar only allows one week for final exams, thus diminishing study time for students and increasing student stress. In addition to shortening winter break to four weeks, our proposal would allow both first and second semester to continue with a much-needed two-week final exam period.
The Board, in agreement with student public opinion on the topic, recognizes the need for calendar reform and is glad to see the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations. Moving finals before winter break, creating a Wintersession, and starting the academic calendar of both semesters one week earlier are important changes with the potential to improve future Princeton students’ experiences. In addition, we propose that moving the start of classes to the end of August and making winter break four weeks rather than five would allow the University to maintain the current two-week-long final exams period, and ease student stress. The Board looks forward to seeing the definitive submission of the Ad Hoc Committee’s proposal to the Faculty Advisory Board in March, and hopes to see Princeton students benefit in years to come.