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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Trimesters, or maybe just trying too hard

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Around this time of year, when Snapchat stories are littered with pictures of friends already home from school, many Carls are left asking: why are we still here?

It seems unfair, and more than that, it can feel unproductive. However, there are some good reasons to embrace June classes, and trimesters as a whole.

I spoke with two professors, both of which had taught previously at semester schools, to understand why we should, and should not, remain a trimester school.

Professor Frank Grady, a visiting professor from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is here for only spring term, and has taught for many years on the semester schedule. He has not found the transition to trimesters to be alarming, stating that for professors, “The difference isn’t between terms and semesters. It’s between on and off—school’s in session, or it’s not.”

This, perhaps, is the reason he is slow to pass judgment on trimesters. He claims that the rushed nature of the 10-week term is “as much a function of the kind of work I and other English profs tend to assign as it is the length of the term.”

Yet, although due dates may be rapid, Grady maintains that especially for disciplines like English there is not much lost by congesting his normally semester-long course into a trimester.

“We may leave some things unsaid or spend less time than we could on particular topics—but it’s not like we ever run out of things to talk about, or completely exhaust a set of texts, during a longer semester, either.”

However, he does point out that for novel based courses (Grady teaches medieval lit.) the difference between the semester and trimester might be more detrimental. The sink-in period that novels require, according to Grady, cannot be simply compacted into yet shorter and shorter time-periods: “You just have to do less.”

Other professors, like psychology Associate Professor Mija Van Der Wege, are also concerned about students’ ability to learn in a trimester what other students learn in a semester.

“In theory we try to cover in a trimester what we do in a semester, but this can’t always happen,” she said.

An additional concern Van Der Wege has is for students who enter college under-prepared, claiming that they can have a hard time catching up so rapidly.

From a psychological perspective, Van Der Wege points out that “it is easier to learn things when you have more time to learn them.”

Similar to comments by professors, students also see trimesters as a mixed bag.

Taylor Barnhill ’18 is fond of the way trimesters can prohibit procrastination, noting that you “have to stay on your toes.”

However, other students, like Rafa Soto ‘18, think it would be nice to have a schedule more aligned with other schools. Indeed, although we theoretically can cross enroll at St. Olaf, the mismatched terms are prohibitive.

However, the idea that Carleton would convert to a semester school seems unlikely, if not cost prohibitive. The semester-trimester debate is largely one of values, and there is not a clear winner.

It is also clear that when deciding between Carleton and similar small liberal arts schools that the trimester was at the very least seen as equal to the trimester, if not superior to the student body.

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