Credits and Calendars: Why is Witt So Weird?

Wittenberg’s academic calendar is a little unique. Classes here are four credits, while at most colleges classes are five, and students usually only take four courses a semester, as opposed to the five. While many students may wonder why the calendar is set up in this way, it is clear that Wittenberg has adopted this system for specific reasons.

The origins of Wittenberg’s current calendar and schedule system rests in a debate that took place over 20 years ago. Before 1992, Wittenberg ran on a trimester schedule with three sections in the year. Classes ran for each trimester, resulting in courses that were not exactly three or four credits, which created difficulty when attempting to transfer credits. By the 1990s, most colleges and universities had converted to a semester calendar, which prompted Wittenberg to do the same.

“A lot of this just does come down to personal taste, but it also comes down to your discipline,” said Tom Taylor, Dean of the School of Community Education. When the last debate of this nature arose in 2005, Taylor was on the committee that decided for or against a schedule change. “Science students who spend a lot of time in the lab think about class time differently.”

Though the vote passed in 1992, the changes that resulted from this decision weren’t enacted until 1995. The entire curriculum of the university was rewritten to fit into the semester system, which brought about many of the choices that still affect the university scheduling today. Most of the universities around Wittenberg run on a 14 week semester, rather than the 15 weeks that Wittenberg uses.

“There’s a real commitment on the part of many of the Witt faculty to maintaining that longer semester,” said Provost Duncan. “Right now, there is no significant proposal that is taking place. There’s no one leading the charge for a change and I don’t plan on leading that charge this year.”

While this extra week may seem inconsequential, this extra week at the end of each semester affects the daily timing of classes. Semesters that run 14 weeks generally incorporate three credit classes into their systems, which meet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 50 minutes or Tuesday and Thursday for an hour and 15 minutes, an amount of time that Taylor suggests would be easier for students to concentrate through.

“I’ve had a range of experiences with a Tuesday-Thursday schedule,” said Dr. Rick Incorvati of the English Department. “Some classes feel like they drag at 90 minutes; others seem to go OK.  With that track record and knowing colleagues who prefer the 90 minute class, my experiences don’t tilt me strongly in either direction.”

Students in this system with shorter class times generally take five classes a semester, as opposed to four. When Wittenberg made its decision to make four credit classes, the committee decided that students would take fewer courses a semester that required more work and depth outside of class than a three credit class. However, in order to provide enough time for a full four credit class, the extra 15th week was placed at the end of every semester.

“If someone put the motion out there, I probably would vote to go to 14 weeks,” said Taylor. “For me this comes down to prevailing norms. I think for our students, meeting four times a week in shorter segments would be better than meeting three times a week in 60 minute segments.”

Taylor insisted that each option has benefits and challenges. A shorter semester may open up the option for a January term in which students could take extra classes, conduct an internship, or study abroad and would free up more time for summer classes. However, the shorter calendar would change classes from four to three credits, meaning students would take more classes that required less depth. Ultimately, Taylor suggested, the “better” academic calendar is about personal preference.

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