For nearly three decades Brown University’s academic calendar has been structured around an approximately month-long winter recess. Students, among other members of the community, often express concern that the break is too long but not quite long enough to support opportunities for internships or other substantive academic experiences. Faculty members have expressed the desire for concentrated blocks of time to enhance their scholarship, experiment with different teaching formats, and engage with students outside of the classroom. Differences in alignment between Brown and RISD’s academic calendar in the winter and spring also pose barriers to academic collaborations and course offerings between both institutions. These and other challenges presented by the current academic calendar led to a call in Building on Distinction for consideration of potential changes to better support student exploration and faculty research.
The Winter Term Working Group, comprised of faculty, students and staff, is charged with undertaking a review of the academic calendar with a particular focus on the winter recess. The Working Group will be aided by the preliminary staff assessment of this issue conducted in spring 2014. However, the multi-stakeholder Working Group will consider more broadly the issues associated with a potential Winter Term and actively engage the Brown community in a thorough discussion of the option(s) through a process that will unfold over the spring and, if the idea is worth pursuing, through the 2015-2016 academic year.
The Working Group will:
- Review the 2014 preliminary staff assessment and identify questions that remain to be answered with regard to potential changes to the duration and structure of the winter recess. Appropriate administrative offices will be tasked early on with answering these questions, conducting analyses and providing information to support the Working Group.
- Assess and develop the academic goals, objectives and benefits of a potential Winter Term along with the anticipated costs and impact on the overall academic calendar.
- Identify and assess the advantages and disadvantages of a Winter Term from a faculty perspective, including incentives for faculty participation, such as direct compensation, course relief, etc.
- Explore and discuss opportunities for Winter Term course credit and/or transcript entries for undergraduate participation.
- Identify and assess the advantages and disadvantages of a Winter Term from a graduate student perspective, including opportunities for teaching experience, increased time for scholarship, etc.
- Identify academic programs, classes and other academic initiatives (current or proposed) that would benefit from the concentrated and intense timeframe of a Winter Term.
- Make a preliminary assessment and recommendation regarding whether the idea of a Winter Term is worth pursuing for Brown and, if affirmative, propose a process for further review and campus discussion to take place over the course of the 2015-2016 academic year. It is understood that any proposed changes to the academic calendar are subject to the approval of the Faculty.
The Working Group, which will be co-chaired by Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin and Dean of the College Maud Mandel, will begin its work in Spring 2015. During the course of this semester it is anticipated that there will be discussion and engagement with the campus, including appropriate governance bodies, although much of the preliminary work will be internal assessment and discussion conducted within the Working Group. An interim report with the preliminary assessment and recommendation called for in number seven above (as to the worthiness of further consideration of the matter) will be made to the President and the Provost by the end of the semester. If committee finds that there is sufficient community consensus that the idea should continue to be pursued and developed further, broad campus-wide discussion will take place during the 2015-2016 academic year.