So, like many other students here, my Facebook wall is plaguing me with statuses from friends suffering through finals and anticipating summer. In a week. My own mother called me last week and asked if I was taking my finals soon – the joke was not appreciated. The majority of universities across the country have the semester system. I can’t help but wonder why, in this one case, Stanford is different.
The general spiel I get can be found on Stanford’s website:
Stanford’s unique quarter-system calendar allows students to take advantage of dozens of additional courses not possible under a more traditional semester calendar.
But after thinking about it for 2 seconds, there are more disadvantages than advantages. Just today, a professor of mine was upset because he couldn’t cover all the material he had planned because of the limited amount of weeks we have. Both students and professors alike are being rushed through material that should be explored for longer amounts of time. Or worse, professors believe that the difference between 10 and 15 weeks is infinitesimal and hand out assignments as if it really were a semester system. I have no doubt that this mentality is part of the reason why the Duck Syndrome exists.
Student work suffers. And so do their interpersonal relationships. Stanford is extremely proud of its seminars – apparently 75% of the university’s classes have under 15 people. This might mean that you can develop a relationship with your Professor but the odds of you getting to really know your classmates are slim to none. The first half of the quarter is awkward - you’ve been in a room, possibly arguing with someone for 5 weeks but you can’t really always remember their name. And by the time students feel completely comfortable with each other, the quarter’s over. You’ve officially made a new acquaintance, someone else you can say hello to as you bike through campus. It’s pretty hard to develop a friendship during that 10 week ticking time bomb. If you’re never going to see any of those people again, why bother?
I’ve only heard one other tidbit about the quarter system – it allows our renowned School of Engineering to proudly allow its undergraduates to leave after only 4 years. On the one hand, this means that there are enough quarters to allow engineers to take all their required classes, explore a little, and graduate with their friends. On the other hand, it means that some students are rushing through a 5 year major in only 4 years. I can’t tell you if I think engineers are lucky or not.
So the main question is, why do we have a quarter system? Generally I’m too busy to even focus on it but this quandary has taken a front and center place in my mind at this time for the past two years. Maybe someone else can give me a better explanation.