Tavie Kittredge ’24 (She/Her)
How many weeks are in a semester? At Davidson, I’m never quite sure.
Before my freshman semester in the fall of 2020, Davidson College was open about the fact that they were switching from a 15-week semester to a 13-week semester. This change would allow students to travel home for Thanksgiving without risking bringing COVID-19 back to school. I questioned this reasoning, as finals and most classes were virtual already, so students probably could have done their last two weeks of school from home, like our 100% virtual peers. Still, since college during pre-vaccine COVID was exhausting and wifi accessibility couldn’t be guaranteed, I didn’t have a problem with our shortened time.
Since that first semester, communication and reasoning around the lengths of our semesters have been murkier. In spring 2021, the 13-week semester stuck around, despite Thanksgiving not being a factor. Still, there were other reasons that a shorter semester made sense. Virtual classes were mentally draining, it would be odd to have semesters with different lengths in one year, and the school was spending extra money on COVID testing. So I understood why sacrifices had to be made.
But they were indeed sacrifices. On top of the diminished effectiveness of online learning, we lost over 13% of each semester. Not only did we lose out on about a month of education that first year, but we dealt with classes being crammed into shorter timeframes. Especially in the beginning, as professors compressed 15 weeks of material down into 13 weeks, this gave a stressed, unrelenting air to the classroom. In the final weeks of a semester, professors would complain about how they’d had to drop units or entire books from their syllabi. Additionally, the social scene on campus was not perfect amidst peak-COVID restrictions, but we were around people our own age, and able to join clubs and build relationships. We lost weeks of valuable social and extracurricular time. Finally, we paid the same tuition for 13 weeks as we would have for 15 weeks the year before.
This academic year, the 13-week semester continued without announcement or explanation. Most classes are in person, the vaccine is mandatory, and the school no longer pays for universal, weekly COVID testing. Further, we were allowed to leave and come back during fall break, so the travel aspect of Thanksgiving couldn’t be the problem. Why are we losing four weeks of education this school year? Why will I be sitting at home for two full months this winter break? I have no idea.
Students participating in both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years will lose a total of eight weeks of education due to the shift to the 13-week calendar. This is the equivalent of if in 2019 Davidson had declared that all seniors would graduate only seven weeks into their final semester. In total, we’ve lost 53% of a 15-week semester, or 62% of a 13-week semester.
There have been no announcements about going back to the 15-week semester, but the academic calendars for 2022-23 and 2023-24 have been posted on the Davidson website. If I did my math correctly (always a real risk), we will have 15-week semesters in my final two years at Davidson. Next year, for example, our fall classes will run from August 22nd to December 7th instead of from August 23rd to November 23rd. I thank the administration for this decision.
There’s no way to gain back lost time. I value this community and my time spent in it, and I mourn every one of the eight weeks of time at Davidson I will never recover. But we can make sure that, in the future, the school actually provides the 15-week semesters I expected when I committed to Davidson. I decided to come to college because I think my education is valuable. I don’t want to lose any more of it.
Tavie Kittredge (she/her) is an intended computer science major from Portland, Oregon. She can be reached for comment at email@example.com.