Calendar Committee agrees on later start date, looks at changing class times

Discussions of shortening semesters, extending class times and reaching 20,000 in enrollment dominated the table at the Calendar Committee meeting on Tuesday as faculty representatives met to finalize plans for the 2010-2011 academic years.

The most noticeable change to next year’s calendar is the much later start date of Jan. 24 in the Spring 2011 semester, giving an extra week of Christmas Break. Teresa Ringo, Sam Houston State registrar, said the university had been trying for a later start, so the first class day would fall on a Monday and fewer holiday breaks would cut into the semester.

“We’re going to try to shoot for a later start date in the spring from now on to avoid losing a day to Martin Luther King Day,” Ringo said.

Throughout the meeting, the committee stressed the need to keep students’ best interests at the forefront while striving to attain the highest academic standards possible.

Competing with other universities for students, striving to expand enrollment and shaking off the “suitcase campus” image were some of the leading issues of the afternoon.

As the committee discussed start dates, final exam dates and contact hour requirements, talk inevitably turned to the differences between the SHSU calendar and those of other schools in Texas.

Faculty and staff voiced their concerns that inconsistencies between the SHSU calendar and those of local public schools create multiple problems, both for students and parents who work at Sam and are left with no place to send their children while they work.

Differing schedules between the universities also cause problems for siblings at different schools, friends trying to plan vacations between campuses and students attempting to transfer between universities.

“There are seven to 12 high schools that graduate in the Coliseum and their principals come and tell us they have students who want to come to SHSU, but can’t,” Keith Jenkins, SHSU Recreational Sports Director, said.

Committee members also brought up the discrepancies between final exam dates at SHSU and those of other universities such as Texas A&M, Texas State and Texas. Yet according to Dr. David Payne, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, the university is bound by law to provide at least 15-week semesters with a minimum of 45 contact hours.

According to Payne, the difference in scheduling between universities results from the differing interpretations of the law. Many schools look at the requirement as 15 weeks or 45 contact hours, instead of both, which leads to shorter semesters and fewer contact hours.

Contact hours are the number of hours students spend in the classroom per semester for a given class.

“I called and they said that 45 hours and 15 weeks is the correct interpretation and the board is choosing not to enforce it,” Payne said. “I see no reason not to follow the letter of the law.”

Another hot topic of the discussion was extending class times to increase scheduling options, yet not everyone was in agreement on how far to go. Several committee members proposed a total elimination of 50-minute classes in favor of a complete shift to 80-minute courses, which would ease travel requirements on commuters and allow professors to cover more material in one class.

Going to longer classes would also allow the university to shorten the semester by up to one week, with more contact hours per week.

Yet concerns quickly arose over how students may feel about the change – if they would actually prefer 80-minute courses and if their attention spans would even be able to handle it – so the issue was left on the table for later.

After discussing the fine points, the committee members finalized the calendar for next year and concluded with a host of new issues to tackle in the future.

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