From Vance: Request for comments from those in support of calendar change

Vance Ricks sent me an e-mail looking for ways to provide a discussion space for those who support and are excited about the 12-3 change. We agreed that a Moon Room post might be a good place to help facilitate that discussion. He wrote up the following and asked me to post it for him. Please feel free to comment here.

“Dear colleagues,

There ARE some faculty (and staff) who want and like the adoption of a 12-3 calendar. I’m writing to ask and encourage them to speak up — not just to each other, but also in public venues such as this one. To me, the public conversations here and in many faculty gatherings have felt dominated by expressions of skepticism about (or at best lukewarm support for) that adoption. That isn’t a criticism! But it means that I think I’m getting a distorted picture of the landscape of campus opinions and of what it’ll take to discern or build some kind of consensus.

Just to be clear, I should explain that I’m asking specifically about support for the adoption of the calendar itself — not about support for the path that led us to this point, if we can (for the sake of discussion) pull those things apart. Why do you like it? What excites you about it? And by that, I’m asking: is it support specifically for the 12-3 calendar, or for a distinct alternative to our current one (such as the 8-8 that Thom proposed, or the Colorado College model, or…)? Is it support for the 12-3 calendar as a package? Is it support for what could occur during the “3” part of it, separable from liking the “12” part of it? Is it support for it on principle (e.g., even if it did nothing to attract or retain more students than we have now, we should still do it because of its other advantages over the status quo)?

From where I sit, the plan to adopt a 12-3 calendar seems to have the weight of presidential, administrative, and trustee support behind it. So (again from where I sit), I really don’t think that anyone ought to feel that they’re “unsafe” to express their own support for that plan. And I’m asking a genuine question, not trying to set anyone up for a fight.



  1. Vance, thanks for asking. Here’s my response, from the heart:

    I don’t know that, if I ran the zoo, I would choose a 12-3. necessarily–but I would definitely choose to shake up the calendar. Because (for me at least) it is so much easier to be innovative, to create change, if the old box I have been living it gets the sides and top blown off it and leaves me in the open, both naked (yikes, scary) and with lots of room to move (yay, cool). So I am supportive of a calendar change.

    I am most excited about the 3-week block/immersive (see below). I was also just over at Dave’s Moon Room post where he quite rightly articulated staffing challenges for the 12-3, and I realized something: I am also excited by solving problems that arise when you shake things up. This was something I didn’t expect. That I would become fascinated by the problems as well as by the possibilities of any calendar change.

    I am excited by the three-week courses because they strike me as the part of the model that could really put us on the map (see my comment/suggestions on Dave’s post). The immersives are a golden opportunity. If we do something dull with them (like just turn them into really fast regular courses), a calendar change will be for naught. If we can imagine something truly bold, magnificent, magical, paradigm-shifting for them, something with big implications for our students, and maybe even for liberal arts education in America–wow.

    And why not think that way? Why not throw out the wildest, biggest ideas we might have for those three weeks? I mean, on a level, it’s just three weeks. I think that’s what also excites me. It’s just this little block of time. It’s not beyond my capacity to imagine. And yet so much could be done, maybe that has never been done, with that space.

    And I am excited because I am surrounded by imaginative colleagues who have done nothing but solve academic puzzles, in their classrooms, for years–so I have faith if we switch to this calendar we have the wherewithal to make it sing.

    • I’d like to add this: There is a lot of need for response and data that this will be effective. I offer the following by way of data. I have designed over 100 plays. Each one was a collaborative project that sometimes brought together as few as 15 and more often 30-60 people, sometimes more. The need for uninterrupted time at the end to put the pieces together is essential. I do not believe real deep collaboration happens by meeting twice a week without ever coming together for a solid period of uninterrupted time, my research just doesn’t support it. For us it’s a week. It could be 4 days, or 3. But as faculty starts to focus on collaborative learning I know they will find the immersive time invaluable. And as Mylene says..if a project is a failure in three weeks..great! We all learn. We can take bigger risks. A 15 week failure is harder to swallow, for us and the students. 3 weeks allows us to be bold, choose riskier material, ask more in less time. Without other classes demanding their (or our) time.

  2. The three week course is ideal for theatre studies. Most professional productions rehearse three weeks, have a three-week set build, and then a run. Of course we (faculty and staff) work beyond by designing the show ahead of time, generating drawings, etc…like prepping for class.

    The way I envision it working ISsthe rehearsal through tech (that pivotal week when we need all students in the theater for 12 hours (yes 12 hours!) a day to put the collaborative pieces together) and we open at the end of the three-week immersive, so we would need one more weekend to run. Whether that means it happens during finals, or something I don’t know but I’m willing to find out. BUT for me a 3-12,3-12 would be ideal. And it means FYS can be in that first 3, a theater production with 70-80 or more! students involved in the January block (20-30 actors, 20 or more technicians, Brian Coleman’s Backstage Production class: 20).

    Many Guilford students would love to act in a show but can’t commit to our current rehearsal model (9-12 weeks, 4 nights a week, 4 hours a night)

    I see such opportunity for guest artists. That comes into money but the recruiting power of using guest artists is undeniable. Who could you get to come to your department for 3 weeks that can’t spare 15? For us Actors, Choreographers, Directors, Designers, Playwrights..,, It is also a way to bring so much diversity to our department and school and open the door to new voices. This is something that no other theater program in our area is doing.

    Theatre can also offer fall 3-week courses in Acting, Stage Design, Scene Painting, Costume Design, and my J-term version of Digital Graphic Design. The XD seminar I’m teaching right now would work well in three weeks (and offer an opportunity to implement their product during the 15 weeks as an independent study???) All of these courses are part of our regular load. (Acting is currently an adjunct since we don’t have a full-time faculty member).

    Lastly I want to lead a three-week trip to NY to see shows I have connections to backstage tours and studio tours! Damon maybe we can study Robert Moses and make it a collaboration?
    We’re all in (can it be 3-12?). Make it work!

    • I don’t know how this works for others but when I type a comment it’s TINY…leading to many errors. Apologies! My enthusiastic brain is faster than my fingers…

  3. Vance, thank you for your positive action here, asking for all faculty voices to share their perspectives. As you say, given that a significant number of faculty do view the Collaborative Learning initiative as an opportunity to innovate and address some of Guilford’s challenges, bringing these voices forward is important following Jane’s announcement on Wednesday.

    I continue to be optimistic at the ability for our faculty to lead as good partners in transforming the learning experiences at Guilford. For several years, I have made personal and professional commitments on these beliefs, in an effort to walk the talk. My service toward writing new general education learning outcomes, as chair of the LAGER general education revision committee and as a member of the Edge summer team, I hope, demonstrate my commitment to and my optimism in Guilford’s ability to meet these challenges.

    I have many of the same ideas toward the 12-3 calendar as Mylene and Robin have already explained. Who could get excited by any calendar, per se? I’m not excited by our current calendar. In this way, I see any calendar as a structure we create and that should serve our mission. Having stipulated that, I’ve divided my support into reasons that emerge from practical considerations and reasons that emerge from personal and professional experience.

    First, all students should have access to, and support for completing, high-impact learning activities as part of their Guilford education. The 12-3 avoids many of the barriers to entry and completion that we saw in the January term pilot. Placing these learning experiences inside a semester (instead of as an optional term outside) increases access for all students. It also avoids lengthening the academic term in ways that could impinge on a student’s ability to have a job when not at Guilford or to play a sport during a given semester.

    Second, by integrating these experiences into the ordinary semester (versus optional terms), our colleagues in financial aid and student accounts assured the summer teams that students would have access to their full financial aid packages. This again promotes access, especially for students unable to pay the full premium of such off-campus experiences. By requiring these 3-week experiences, Guilford is also making a statement about what we value in a way that will surely attract additional funding from foundations and donors to support meeting the needs of our students to move from on-campus to off-campus learning experiences in these terms.

    Third, while I visited both Colorado College and Cornell College with faculty and staff colleagues and was intrigued by their one-course-at-a-time model, many of us realized that level of disruption was too high. Having the 3-week term “buys” us the advantages of one-course-at-time without requiring every class to fit into this calendar.

    Fourth, the Art & Science research report provided a key constraint on the options available to Guilford: the activities at the heart of Collaborative Learning should be varied but also required of all students. While this recommendation initially rang false for many faculty and staff on our summer team, we came to realize, with the help of our colleagues in Enrollment Management, that many of our current students have negative associations with optional activities as many in this generation prefer team-based learning and work. Requiring the new learning experiences would be far easier on Guilford’s budget and faculty workload if it could occur within existing semester blocks instead of outside these blocks. The summer team could not understand how we could require these intensive learning experiences outside the usual semester length.

    Finally, I have taught a 3-week course and saw the powerful learning that can occur when students can focus on one topic at a time. The personal stories of the students in that calendar provided valuable lessons I carry with me today. Students that struggled to focus on multiple subjects during a regular semester, suddenly could focus on a single one for three weeks. Jonathan Brand, president at Cornell College, summed up what I saw in my students in 3-week courses: they get to become an artist, an actor, a chemist, a writer or a political scientist for three weeks. President Brand summarizes this in his article here.

    Beyond being excited about the specifics of what can be achieved in the 3-week block, you also asked about the 12-week block. Here too, I see some advantages over our current one-size-fits-all semester. My work in the Dean’s office yields a unique perspective, together with colleagues in the ARC and Learning Commons, on supporting students that struggle to juggle four 4-credit courses simultaneously. Students that struggle tell us, repeatedly, what should be obvious to us as educators: taking four courses at a time is harder than taking three. Many of our students end up withdrawing from a course and “underloading” not because any one course might be too difficult, but managing four different subjects, syllabi, schedules and pedagogies is simply too much. In this way, I believe there is even more opportunity for students to persist at higher levels of credit hours in 12 weeks than we currently have in our conventional semester. Finally, to this point of supporting students, faculty should be familiar with the student that struggles with a particular requirement. Sometimes this is in a student’s major–a methods course, for example. Sometimes this is a general education requirement that presents peculiar barriers for the student–an art student taking a lab science, a business student taking a foreign language or an English major passing a math course. If students had the ability to tackle these courses in the 3-week block and focus solely on this course, we may avoid having to send these same students to take these requirements during the summer, sometimes at other institutions.

    Finally, beyond the specifics of the 3-week or 12-week structure, I am also excited about the ideas and innovation I have heard my colleagues already discussing. We won’t simply be fitting traditional courses into smaller boxes, but truly innovating. Mylene, Robin and Wendy have already discussed this above. Others have talked about short-term away courses, implementing internship programs, engaging in more hands-on work in the community and field, and even inviting practitioners into teach these 3-week courses, as Mylene is doing at Cornell College next year. The potential for innovation among my colleagues excites me because it excites them and excited and engaged professors will also further raise the social warmth of our campus, as reported by those prospective students and their families on visit days. The new calendar will act as a unifying structure for all faculty to innovate and create transformative learning experiences at Guilford and push out beyond the pockets of innovation we have today. All faculty deserve to be supported in this work. Valuing that work and disrupting the inequities under our current structures are secondary benefits that will flow from the remix and reform in the years ahead.

    I truly believe faculty will exercise our responsibility as partners in shared governance to transform the learning experience at Guilford and provide our expertise as educators as we create and recreate the next version of a small college doing a few things splendidly. I look forward to hearing from more of my colleagues and supporting them in any way I can.

  4. I appreciate Vance’s request. I think I may belong in this thread. I am not a huge fan of the 12/3 though so I don’t really feel the suggested sense of safety from supporting the admin/trustee plan. At the same time I disagree with what seems to be the majority faculty position. Have mercy on my soul.
    Briefly on calendar: I was most interested in the one-course-at-a-time model, though I like Thom’s 8’s too. This is because I think I have to fight too hard for student attention. The 21st century attention economy is squeezed with social media and easy access to infinite entertainment and information. More students are working jobs too. We are carving up a narrower slice of their attention than ever before. I really feel that in classes. Even my best students know little of sustained focus on one thing. On our current calendar students rightly prioritize their commitments according to “importance” or the pacing of demands. At Cornell College I heard that an artist taking a philosophy class can wholly be a philosopher for a block. If in a parallel world someone proposed a radical new four-course-at-a-time model, we would certainly be asking how students (how we) could split attention in that many ways. In fact many students cant.
    I am not against the 12/3. I will relish the 3-week. I think my students will do better with fewer classes in the 12-week. I agree with the comment that a shakeup is generally good for stuckness. My major feel though is that we missed an opportunity to lead in a transformation of academia that is occurring with or without us. As a body we became so enthralled by the 12/3 ultimatum that our primary effort was defensive. Some seem to like the lego defense plan. I think it brings us roughly up to date. That isn’t what we were asked to do though. We did that kayaking thing where you pay too much attention to the scary rock and run right into it. I wish we had worked harder to encourage more diverse and visionary ideas.
    My hope against hope is for Guilford to step radically away from the small struggling liberal arts pattern. If we are going to be vulnerable, disrupted, scared and mad I wish it could be over something ambitious and brave. Guilford was invented in the South against all odds. “We” were co-ed from day one. “We” stayed open during the civil war and accepted Japanese American Students during WWII. This same school is where Every Campus a Refuge started. None of those things were done with the luxury of certainty. They are all proof that we have it in us to lead and meet the problems that will arise.
    Visionary ideas: I love Mylène’s idea to dump departmental structure and operate via interdisciplinary centers. Nothing in the world functions in such disciplinary isolation as academics. Let’s dissolve some borders and be leaders in that particular transformation. It is happening already. Arizona State University has had incredible success with this. I also love Diya, Jim and Mylène’s “Spokes and Wheels.” Students (and faculty) who spend their education learning, imagining, practicing and collaborating through the world’s most wicked problems would be well prepared for teacup challenges like revising a small liberal arts college. Spokes and Wheels isn’t about 1500 students cluelessly ladling soup in food deserts. It’s about using our collected diversity of knowledge and process to interrogate dysfunctional scripts while we study and prototype new ways. Spokes and Wheels includes a calendar change by the way. It is there to facilitate not just marketing and education, but also our own preparatory work to make the big ideas happen.
    Sorry to go on and on. I like Guilford. Whatever happens I will keep doing my damnedest to teach well, support community and create.

  5. I had a conflict with the last faculty meeting and my scholarship so I missed it, but I gather there was a call for ideas for courses taught in the 12-3. Brian Coleman is interested in teaching a Tiny House class. He’s been looking at if it can be done in 3 weeks. The farm is excited about this idea because they could use the resulting houses for farm interns.

    Thought I’d share that here as a positive because I find it terribly exciting. Hope he doesn’t mind!

  6. Even in not fully grasping the work we have ahead, I am struck by the peace I feel today in the knowing that the fight is over and the healing and building can now begin.
    I join my colleagues who wrote previously and I’m ready to move forward and help in the creation of something spectacular.
    But here is another positive that I can share: We get to redefine our workload! We can now build into our majors the opportunity to do research and internships and get paid for it! What a concept! We can help build our students professionally by giving them experiences that we didn’t have time for before and we get to decide how that looks.
    Other things I see…The opportunity to build a program for students who we know from their application information may need more assistance and we spend the first 12 weeks with these students, assess them for through their first 12 weeks and then have them take a course during the 3 weeks that strengthens both their academics and their relationships on campus (increasing retention). This pulls in the Teaming for Success group with a peer advisor.
    I really love the idea of all first years having a study abroad/away experience their last 3 weeks of the academic year. This could be a defining moment for them and their direction
    What if we forgave grades from the GPA for the first semester or the first year but had the students, with their advising team, reflect and learn from their first year experiences and give them all the resources they need to map out their future. The core emphasis is on our commitment to the students’ academic success and not on their grades. This would positively affect both recruitment and retention.
    Let’s dream big!

    • As I recall, when I was MIT, the undergrads had only pass-fail grades in their first semester (I was in grad school, so didn’t apply to me :-)), so they could try ambitious things, or just adjust to college, without needing to panic about GPA. Many, many of them chose to take physics in the first year because of this. 🙂

      • Don and Melanie, the Academic Dean’s office is working with Curriculum Committee right now on revising and updating our academic standing policy in a number of ways. One of the ideas that we have been considering is a policy we saw at Davidson where students, upon reaching senior status, can retroactively change up to three courses from regular grading to credit/no-credit grading. Because this happens only retroactively, this can still keep students engaged when the course is occurring, but also support students who are interested in exploring widely throughout the college without fear of one grade “ruining” their GPA. The added hope would be that such exploration would even allow students to find hidden interests or skills they may not know they possessed, of course. Thank you for sharing your experience at MIT in this regard.

  7. I suspect we all knew, at some level, that the 12/3 was going to happen. Purely from a forensics viewpoint, I could think of some really cool things to do with my classes. I taught mini “forensics modules” for each of the 5 Jan terms and found them to be unique and exciting experiences. My intention would be to follow something like Don’s idea about offering the material, then “fleshing it out” in the Crime Scene House (pun intended). Most likely I could offer a non-majors 3 week term here or there to whet the appetites of TV-CSI fans and show them that it isn’t all glitz and glamor. I would relish collaborations with colleagues in English (Sherlock Holmes,anyone?) and Creative Writing (good crime novels?) as well as Theatre, Art (forensic sculpture and photography) and it goes on and on …

  8. An alumna asked if we would build one of these at Guilford. What do you think as a team teaching project Mark Dixon? Three weeks on pendulums, waves, sound, patterns, and building? And we’re left with a cool kinetic sculpture on campus…