As a school which espouses at the very least a hearty rhetoric of valuing student opinion in campus decision making, we believe the decision to change the spring schedule was made under conditions of gross opacity. There has been much and more written about the schedule change, both about how the decision was made and the consequences it will have. We believe that the motivations for changing the schedule do not truly benefit students, and the decision making process lacked the transparency necessary for a valid decision.
Though we acknowledge there were student representatives on the Curriculum Committee, much stronger efforts could have been made to ascertain the opinion of the student body as a whole. When 702 students took a StuCo Moodle poll shortly after the decision was announced, 90% of students were opposed to the decision. Such a poll could easily have been conducted prior to the decision to gauge student response to a change that would have a profound impact on their lives.
The curriculum committee is not a confidential committee, so there was no barrier to informing the wider student body that changing the spring schedule was under serious consideration. We understand that this topic has been discussed among members of the faculty and administration for years, but most students did not know what was happening until the May 21 email sent by Tom Stephenson announced the change. In the days or weeks leading up to a faculty vote, the student body should have been informed.
Among other things, we view this as a call for transparency instead of secrecy for all committees making decisions at Swarthmore. The Curriculum Committee, according to Provost Stephenson, did not take notes at meetings. Non-confidential committees ought to designate scribes and publish their minutes in a public forum, such as the Swarthmore website. Major decisions should be publicized in whatever way the committee sees fit, as long as the information adequately reaches the student body.
As an additional concern, the number of students who complete the honors program has been dropping year by year. According to a recent article from The Phoenix, the number of students who completed the program has dropped from an average of 112 each year from 2008 to 2012 to barely 80 students in 2014. As one of Swarthmore’s most distinctive programs, the continuation—or preferably, growth—of the Honors program should be encouraged. While Honors is not the right course of study for all students (nor should it be), it would be deeply unfortunate if students were dissuaded from two years of challenging and enriching study because of a poorly planned and unnecessarily stressful exam period. These students might otherwise thrive in seminars and succeed with more time to prepare for Honors exams.
To encourage more students to complete Honors, we should be examining any change that could make the program more accessible while maintaining its rigor. Shortening the available time for preparation accomplishes neither of these goals: the program is more difficult, but no more enriching.
The current senior Honors students, who have already invested a year taking Honors courses, are also being shortchanged. They applied to the Honors program under the assumption that they would have a sufficient amount of time to prepare for their Honors exams. We think it is safe to assume the vast majority of current Honors seniors would not characterize one weekend as a sufficient amount of time. Though Dean Diane Anderson is adamant that Swatties are responsible and would never “cram” for an exam, there is nevertheless something to be said for the value of preparation in the short term, academically, but also mentally and emotionally. It takes time for many students to be able to take a breath after the end of classes and get into a mindset where they can feel in control when faced with a daunting exam with a world-class expert on material they may have studied two years ago.
Such an abbreviated time to prepare for exams indicates both a lack of awareness of the pressures of the Honors program and a lack of sensitivity to the needs of Honors students. If these conclusions are incorrect, we urge you to demonstrate your understanding by restoring the schedule.