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Bok Reopens Calendar Debate

E-mail to Harvard community a ‘watershed moment,’ says UC President

By Madeline W. Lissner and Laurence H. M. holland, Crimson Staff Writers

Interim University President Derek C. Bok opened a University-wide dialogue on calendar reform in an e-mail to all members of the University yesterday evening, following an intense month of campaigning by Undergraduate Council (UC) leaders.

The e-mail comes two months before Bok will step down and signals that he intends to make headway on this hot-button issue before handing the presidency over to President-elect Drew G. Faust on July 1.

Bok wrote in his letter that with renewed support from University deans and the alumni Board of Overseers, “it seems only appropriate and fair to offer all interested parties an opportunity to be heard so that we may have a full range of arguments and views.”

Bok’s message signaled the resurrection of a debate that led to a 2004 report from a University-wide committee chaired by Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba ’53. The committee recommended coordinating the calendars across all of the University’s schools and completing the fall semester before winter break.

At the time, then-President Lawrence H. Summers, Provost Steven E. Hyman, and the all of the deans supported the report’s recommendations, but agreed to postpone a final decision until the completion of several curricular reviews across the University, including the current review in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

Verba said that he was delighted with Bok’s decision to return to the discussion.

“It’s a very wise move on the President’s part to send a letter now,” Verba said.

UC President Ryan A. Petersen ’08 said he was “looking forward to further discussion.”

The UC had recently put together a “declaration of grievances,” which accuses the administration of “restricting discussion” about calendar reform, but Petersen said that Bok’s e-mail represented “a watershed moment for the undergraduate call for calendar reform.”

Last week’s UC referendum on calendar reform was endorsed by 84 percent of the voting undergraduates, which amounted to 43.4 percent of all undergraduates.

The Verba report proposes a “4-1-4” calendar that would consist of two four-month semesters separated by a one-month term.

Petersen said he preferred the UC’s proposal because it guarantees a 10-day reading period.

“I think undergraduates are served better by the undergraduate Council proposal,” Petersen added.

“I remain firmly in favor of calendar change,” Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ‘71 wrote in an e-mailed statement to The Crimson earlier this week. “There are pros and cons to any reform, but I think the UC proposal and the Verba report make a good case.”

Dean of the Kennedy School of Government David T. Ellwood wrote in an e-mailed statement yesterday that he would “enthusiastically embrace calendar reform.”

“It would be powerful evidence that we are becoming one University,” Ellwood wrote.

Any implementation of a University-wide calendar would require FAS, the Divinity School, the Graduate School of Design, and the Graduate School of Education—all of which currently hold exams after winter break—to make the most drastic changes to their calendars.

—Brenda C. Maldonado contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Laurence H. M. Holland can be reached at

—Staff writer Madeline W. Lissner can be reached at

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