Whether Contra Costa College endorses compressing the semester calendar from 18 to 16 weeks depends on what sister school Los Medanos College decides.
After surveying all faculty opinions on reducing fall and spring semesters by two weeks, CCC’s Academic Senate determined faculty collegewide are near evenly split on the matter. Although Diablo Valley College’s Senate has already come forward endorsing the compressed calendar, LMC has yet to make a decision, and CCC is waiting to hear what LMC chooses before climbing down from the fence.
Wayne Organ, CCC’s Academic Senate president, said, “That’s our nuanced approach. Now we have to see what LMC does.”
Faculty Senate LMC President Silvester Henderson was unresponsive to repeated inquiries made by The Advocate over past weeks.
The Advocate was admitted to review the CCC Academic Senate’s survey results; they show that 50 percent of faculty voted “no” on compressing the calendar, while 48 percent gave a “yes” vote.
“Two percent are unknown. As far as we (Academic Senate) know, those 2 percent may favor the compressed calendar, which would make the decision 50/50,” Organ said. “Since it is so close to being divided down the middle, we decided to not yet take a collegewide stance for or against.”
If the district does decide to compress the calendar, changes would not occur until fall 2016.
Dr. Jeffrey Michels, member of the United Faculty, the independent collective bargaining association for faculty districtwide, said, “I like the way the Senate planned it. I personally like surveys because they give everybody a chance to weigh in.”
When The Advocate anonymously surveyed 200 students about compressing the calendar (March 4 edition), nearly 59 percent of students desired semester length to stay the same at 18 weeks.
While many left comments in the vein of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” others supporting making the switch noted that compressing the calendar would better prepare students for transfer into four-year universities operating on tighter calendars than CCC.
The Advocate’s survey asked for students’ majors; the Academic Senate’s survey asked for faculty member’s divisions. Though major was hardly an indicator of an individual student’s stance, the results of the Senate’s survey show that, of faculty, those in the Natural, Social and Applied Sciences Division are the most opposed to compressing the calendar.
‘A competitive edge’
The proposal to compress the calendar came to the Academic Senate via district consultation on Dec. 15, 2014, and was brought for discussion by Vice Chancellor of Education and Technology, and presently CCC Interim President, Mojdeh Mehdizadeh.
The UF have compiled much data on the effects of compressing semesters, which can be found online at uf4cd.org, under latest news and the link titled compressed calendar discussion and data.
While there is no data to support that 18 weeks is any better than 16 weeks, there have been published studies that indicate making the switch may increase enrollment and retention, transfer and completion rates, as well as open up the yearly schedule to include a winter intersession and extend the already offered summer session.
“There is good reason to believe it will give us a competitive edge at CCC,” Michels said.
District Executive Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Eugene Huff said, “There would be a competitive advantage for the district. None of the contiguous colleges offer a compressed calendar, so if CCC and a nearby school offer the same course, a student could complete the course at CCC in less time.”
James Slenter, a CCC student completing prerequisites to enter a physical therapy program at Ohlone College, said he supports compressing the calendar because it would extend the summer session, thus providing additional time to absorb material.
Slenter said he has been reluctant to take summer courses because of the short duration, but adding a week or two to that would certainly change his mind.
“My initial reaction is I’m for it,” he said. “It really boils down to how professors make the adjustment — will they be able to, and will they be able to teach all that they need to (in the new parameters)?”
Chemistry department Chairperson Thuy Dang, though opposed to making the switch, said the best pro for compressing the calendar would be the winter intersession and enhanced summer session.
Dr. Dang feels students will be more affected by the adjustment than faculty.
“Faculty will have to rearrange their syllabuses and curriculum to make it work,” she said. “The adjustment will not be difficult (for faculty); it will mainly affect students, who may face difficulty adjusting to the new calendar.”
Go slow, go strong
Dang said shrinking fall and spring semesters would leave mathematics and sciences classes with too much to cover in too little time.
Physics and astronomy department Chairperson Jon Celesia said, “The amount of work physics and engineering students need to learn is already challenging to get through in an 18-week semester. My experience with a 16-week system (teaching at SF State) is that you either leave out material or leave out students — or both.”
Celesia expressed concern over losing at least two labs if the switch is made, a decision he believes does not show clear promise, and has potential to waste time and resources.
Considering CCC serves a large demographic of underprepared and first-generation college students, Celesia stressed the importance of such students developing strong academic foundations, which may require extra time and attention from professors — time and attention that would be curtailed by reducing spring and fall semesters from 18 to 16 weeks.
“To go slow is to go strong,” he said.
One consequence of shortening semesters would be longer class sessions, as students are still required to meet state mandated instruction hour minimums for course credit.
Dang said, “We already know how attentive (students) are and when that attentiveness drops during a class meeting. Extending the meeting time may not help if students stop paying attention.”
Other faculty, however, feel it is not the duration of the individual sessions that wears as much on students as does the duration of the semester.
On the fence
African-American studies department Chairperson Carolyn Hodge was initially neutral when the college first considered compressing the calendar around 2006.
Nearly a decade later, her experiences with students in various classroom capacities has fed her decision to endorse making the switch from 18 to 16 weeks.
“I’ve noticed students tend to peter out in the last three weeks of the semester,” she said. “It seems that students are out of breath, whether it’s a lack of academic stamina, family issues, or something else.”
Hodge, who has taught six-week-long summer sessions in recent past, said that students in her summer run of History 122 produced greater completion rates than students from the same class in spring and fall semesters.
“I would be on the fence if I hadn’t taught summer to contrast my experience. Even with that intensity, (students) do better,” she said.
Automotive services department Chairperson Lucile Beatty was originally opposed to compressing the calendar, but recently hopped the fence.
“I changed my mind after listening to how (making the switch) positively impacted the Gilroy school (Gavilan, during an open meeting March 16), and that their students preferred it.”
Former department chairperson Peter Locke analyzed the effects making such a switch would have on the automotive services department in 2006, which also influenced Beatty’s decision to endorse the switch.
“I believe we could accommodate a compressed calendar in the automotive department. It would work for us, whether it is best for the whole college,” Beatty said, and went on to express concern for what demands will be made of classified staff in tailoring curriculum, as well as how feasible compressing the calendar will be for other departments.
With a nebulous deadline contingent on LMC approaching, and a potential implementation date of fall 2016, there is no clear cut answer whether district campuses will adopt compressed semester calendars or not.
Huff said, “We need to make sure all voices are heard. It will be an informed decision either way.”