Nearly a year after then-Interim University President Derek C. Bok announced the plan for University-wide calendar reform last June, graduate schools at Harvard are moving ahead with its implementation.
The original announcement laid out the general calendar with classes beginning earlier in September, moving fall exams before winter break, and ending the academic year in May. But beyond that, many choices were left to each faculty, particularly with regard to the January term, or “J-term.”
In his proposal, Bok wrote that he would grant schools “discretion to decide what, if any, programmatic use to make of the period from early January to the beginning of the spring term.”
Taking advantage of the time before the new calendar goes into effect for the 2009-2010 academic year, schools are debating how to best use the term.
Across Harvard’s nine graduate schools, the J-term represents an opportunity to engage students in intensive short-term courses and to allow them to travel abroad, though most schools expect to make the three-week winter term optional.
Several schools, including Harvard Business School, are still in the very early stages of planning.
“We are now in the first phases of thinking about January,” wrote Joseph L. Badaracco, senior associate dean and chair of the MBA program at the Business School, in an e-mailed statement. He added that the school has not yet decided whether to make the J-term mandatory.
Badaracco wrote that January poses “a significant challenge” in terms of instituting and overseeing a wide range of small-scale activities.
He also said the J-term would be an opportunity to expand existing programs, such as the Immersion Experiences, which allow students to conduct field work throughout the world, and to experiment with new offerings such as mini-courses, team activities, and experiential and field-based learning.
At the Graduate School of Education (GSE), plans to change the calendar were already being formulated before the University’s announcement, said Joseph H. Blatt ’70, a lecturer in education who is overseeing the implementation of the new calendar at GSE.
“We were already revved up on these issues when the President’s memo came out last spring,” he said.
Blatt explained that the education school had already embarked on a calendar reform initiative because it wanted to align its calendar with that of some of the other professional schools.
Blatt said the January term also represents a “perfect opportunity” to further include the school’s one-year masters students.
At a faculty meeting a few weeks ago, Blatt’s committee recommended that the school offer short courses for people to explore subjects different from their concentration, as well as specialized classes for students to delve more deeply into their area of study.
Blatt also cited community service projects, professor-led travel abroad, and a school-wide reading and discussion activity as other possibilities for the January term.
“We’re really excited about [the possibilities for the January term], both in the structured credit-bearing way and the outside learning ways,” Blatt said, adding that he does not expect the program to be mandatory.
According to Blatt, the dean of the education school is expected to announce the final plans for implementation in early January.
At the Harvard Divinity School, final decisions also won’t be approved until the fall.
Emily A. Click, assistant dean for ministry studies, said the Divinity School is convening a committee to look at various possibilities for the January term, including curricular offerings, extracurricular offerings, service opportunities, and international travel with faculty leadership.
Click said that at the committee’s most recent meeting, opinions were divided on whether students should receive credit for J-term classes.
Click also mentioned the possibility of adding hands-on field experiences, like an archaeological dig, to complement a student’s fall or spring courses.
And Click said she personally hoped for opportunities for travel, whether abroad or closer to home, citing the possibility of intensive retreats even in Massachusetts to “sojourn somewhere…and do reflective work.”
“We’re trying to strategize and dream about all the possibilities,” Click said, “because this really opens up opportunities for us that we haven’t had.”
The committee plans to present its findings to the Divinity School faculty early in the fall.
Discussion is underway at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but GSAS Dean Allan M. Brandt said he could not yet discuss ideas for the January term in any detail.
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
Some of Harvard’s biggest graduate schools, including Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Medical School, have already moved independently to a calendar that places exams before the winter holidays.
“The Kennedy School as always is ahead of its time,” said Joseph J. McCarthy, the senior associate dean and director of degree programs at the Kennedy School. “We’ve essentially had this calendar for about 10 years.”
The Kennedy School moved to having the fall term end before the winter recess in part because of the number of international students, many of whom who wanted to go home for vacations and might not have been able to with a shorter vacation.
“This will not be such a big adjustment for us,” McCarthy said.
During the existing J-term at the Kennedy School, students can finish up papers from the first term, work on policy analysis exercises, and take intensive course electives on topics such as leadership, negotiations and conflict resolution, and international security.
But these programs are not mandatory and McCarthy said that only about 200 out of 900 students are registered for some sort of coursework during the J-term.
The Kennedy School also allows students to do internships, which it plans to continue to encourage, and the career advancement office sponsors trips to New York and Washington, D.C. for students to attend information sessions and interviews.
“We’re always exploring new ways to use the J-term,” McCathy said.
Like the Kennedy School, the Medical School adopted a new calendar in 2006 to coincide with the introduction of a new curriculum.
Jules L. Dienstag, dean for medical education, wrote in an e-mailed statement that first-year medical school students take two required month-long classes during their J-term, while second-year students take a Human Systems course that spans about seven months, including January.
The School of Public Health also currently ends its fall term before the winter vacation.
“Interestingly, we’re ahead of the wave,” said Stanley Hudson, associate dean for student services at the School of Public Health.
Hudson said the School of Public Health decided to change its calendar five years ago based on students’ interest in completing their exams before the holidays in December.
Regular classes are currently offered during the January term, along with a relatively large travel-for-credit program.
Though there are no formal requirements during the J-term, Hudson said the School of Public Health has found that about 80 percent of students are involved in some sort of academic endeavor during that time.
She said that over the past five years, students have gone with a faculty member to do for-credit seminar work in places like Bangladesh, China, Chile, and Brazil.
“Over 100 students participate in that every year,” he said, while doctoral students may do work related to their thesis.
Across the different graduate schools, administrators agreed that one of the biggest advantages of the new calendar would be the opportunity for more cross-registrations.
Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said that the unified calendar fit with the University’s plans to bring its disparate schools closer together.
“Given what we want to accomplish and the connections that are being made across the schools, I think this is a good thing,” Smith said.
Brandt, who has taught both at the College and the Medical School, described the challenges of leading a course which includes both graduate and undergraduate students.
“[Medical students] were working against so many obstacles not only to get over here, which was one, but then around their other courses and other schedules,” he said. “Reducing some of those obstacles is going to immediately create new opportunities for students.”
Hudson also said that the move is “fortuitous” for the School of Public Health.
“The inconsistency in the calendars was of course driving us all crazy,” Hudson said.
—Staff writer Alexandra Perloff-Giles can be reached at email@example.com.