May 23, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 5

Eastern Washington University to remain on quarter system

Eastern Washington University students will remain on the quarter system rather than begin a switch to semesters, at least for the immediate future.

At last Thursday’s regular board of trustees, meeting members agreed to accept a recommendation from EWU President Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo to table a switch from the university’s current quarter system to semesters after opposition from faculty over costs and from the associated student body over awareness and understanding.

The university has been researching the feasibility of converting to semesters for the past three years, a move that would put them in line with over 85 percent of universities in the country, including three in this area: Gonzaga, Whitworth and Washington State University.

“Most of which today have graduated their students and who are out in the job market, so that’s something to look at,” Arévalo told the board, citing one semester system benefit.

Research revealed others such as better internship/student study programs, shorter class periods and increased ability for struggling students to catch up while giving new, unprepared students time to adjust. Many textbooks are designed for semester systems, meaning students pay less on books while getting more utility out of them; better collaborative research and in-depth teaching classroom projects, faculty that would only have to prepare twice for a term’s beginning rather than three times and reduced advising loads were also cited.

Arévalo also noted benefits of the quarter system, such as a quicker turnaround time for students to retake courses if necessary and that Eastern’s faculty have been successful over the years in adapting textbooks to work well in the quarter system. And there was also another factor – the $6 million to $8 million projected cost of moving to semesters, something the Faculty Organization said would be better spent in other academic areas.

“I think that’s a point well taken,” Arévalo said.

Faculty Organization representative Sam Ligon told the board, opposition to the move was strong, citing high costs, the increased effort required to make the transition, a higher course load for faculty, the loss of electives and negative impact on “field-based” courses in a switchover. Ligon acknowledged the trend in the country to move to semesters, but pointed out there were also benefits to the quarter system.

“What we can’t do is provide evidence that one is better than the other,” he said. “My point is simply this. Both systems work.”

Ligon said the process of evaluating quarters versus semesters has been a benefit in itself, helping faculty focus more on students’ success. The main reason they believe the university shouldn’t proceed is resource allocation.

“Until the budget stabilizes, let’s not do anything,” he added. “Quarters work.”

Associated Students representative Rebecca Harrell told the board that man-on-the-street type questioning and a pair of surveys revealed most students were not educated on the pros and cons of conversion.

“This is a huge issue and it will have a huge impact on the university here, on the culture here,” she said. “It’s not fair to do this when we can’t accurately represent the students.”

“Therefore,” Arévalo said at the end of Harrell’s presentation, eliciting laughter in the room. Arévalo then gave his recommendation to the board to continue with the current quarter system, and after some discussion – mostly in agreement regarding resources and a need for further research to better define the advantages of one system over the other – the board agreed.

“This is an issue you’re never going to get 100 percent agreement on,” Board Chair Paul Tanaka said. “There are strong opinions on either side.”

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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