Monday, August 30, 2010

The End of Summer Sessions and the End of Summer Sessions

We are wrapping up the third summer session on campus.  We have three summer sessions and we also have a very active and heavily enrolled day camp which helps utilize our facilities during a time when there are fewer students on campus.  In addition to there being fewer students there are also fewer faculty, and summer classes which are typically held early in the day or in the evening tend to leave afternoons free of classes and also unfortunately free of faculty and students on campus.  Yes, there are certainly some faculty on campus in the afternoons and there are some students as well, but the environment lacks the intensity and dynamism present during the fall and spring semesters.  Most student clubs are dormant, few speakers visit the campus; governance slows down and a campus has a very different feel.  In the early weeks of the summer I welcome this tempo since it allows me to both catch up and also provides time to write personnel recommendations for tenure and promotion.  As the summer progresses, I more and more miss the faculty and the students.  I miss the collegiality and the collaboration and I am anxious for the fall semester to begin.  There is no life to a campus without the continuous presence of faculty and students.

The history of summer sessions going back to when I was an undergraduate always had classes clustered in the morning or in the evening.  Two reasons for this split scheduling.  Originally, when classrooms were not air-conditioned, holding classes either early or late helped assure that classes were not held when temperatures and  classrooms were at their hottest.  Second many students worked during the summer and others wanted to take advantage of the beach and other recreational activities.  Holding classes in the evening and the morning allowed students to combine work/recreation with furtherance of their education at off times.  But the winds of change are descending on summer sessions for just the reasons listed above—work and recreation – and these winds will remove more students and faculty from campuses during the summer.

There is no substitute for the fall and spring semesters educational experiences for our undergraduates.  Distance learning will always be a second best alternative during these time periods and the overwhelming majority of undergraduates and faculty will demonstrate with their presence the value and the popularity of this experience.  The summer, however, is very different.  I may be trying to accelerate my education or I may be trying to catch up but most likely I am doing this in addition to working or just relaxing and having a good time.  If I can take these credits via distance learning, it will be attractive – and more and more the norm – for me to do so.  I believe we are entering the twilight of summer sessions.  In not too many years, we will end a summer session and it will also be the end of summer sessions as we know them.  On some level this is progress—education will be a better fit with a student’s needs.  When this happens, a campus in June, July, and August will make today’s summertime campus look like a hotbed of activity by comparison.

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