The 2021-2022 school year will be J-Term’s last.
By Thad Arnold, Staff Writer
On December 1st, university faculty voted to remove J-term and transition to a more traditional academic calendar. In order to understand why this decision was made and why J-term was first added to the curriculum, it is necessary to look back at this University’s history.
A J-term, or January term, more broadly referred to as an interim term, is the distinguishing feature of the 4-1-4 academic calendar. This calendar consists of two regular semesters of four months with a one month long interim session in between. During this interim session, students take only one course.
The 4-1-4 calendar was first implemented at Huntington University during the 1969-1970 school year. According to Gerald Smith, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Chemistry and former Academic Dean, the Institutional Research Committee chaired by Professor William Hasker proposed the switch from a more traditional calendar the previous year.
HU adopted the calendar as a part of a growing trend among smaller colleges that began with Florida Presbyterian College in 1960. J-term was supposed to offer students a chance to study one topic in-depth as well as to get rid of the “lame-duck” period of re-learning that occurs with a longer winter break. Students could even originally take interim courses at certain other participating colleges in an exchange program.
The new calendar was also supposed to streamline graduation requirements by eliminating the credit hour system. Students would instead take four courses a semester, or one during J-term, with each course being worth the same amount of credit.
This system did not last, however, with less-demanding courses being turned into half-courses and quarter-courses. Huntington returned to a credit hour system in 1982, albeit while still keeping J-term.
According to Gerald Smith, this sort of imbalance in the difficulty of courses also plagued J-term, with some students spending a month being challenged while others rode out the month with almost no demands on them.
“In a regular semester, most students had combinations of courses that were easy with more demanding courses, but in January it was feast or famine,” Smith added.
Professors were originally required to teach J-term as a part of their normal contract and were expected to teach special topic classes outside of the core curriculum. Professors were also not allowed to repeat courses within a four-year cycle.
“That was the original idea with J-term: that it was to be an opportunity for people to take something that they might never take otherwise but just kind of caught their fancy,” Mary Ruthi, a Professor of Sociology HU, said.
Over time, these rules were relaxed to allow more repeat courses and some core classes. The J-term program remained popular, especially because of the opportunities it gave for formative experiences, such as internships and trips.
So how then did J-term begin to lose its popularity? One factor was the decline in courses offered. According to Dean of the Faculty Luke Fetters, a typical college professor’s workload consists of teaching twelve credit hours each semester. As the 4-1-4 calendar asked faculty to put in extra work compared to other colleges, the requirement to teach J-term was lifted.
“In order to align Huntington University’s expectations with, really what the expectations are in higher ed[ucation] in general, to bring that to twenty-four hours was a factor of alignment,” Fetters explained.
Because J-term was now optional for faculty, the University began paying a stipend to professors that chose to teach a course. More and more professors began to choose not to return to campus during the interim.
Mary Ruthi believes that many professors choose to not teach J-term because the appeal of being able to work on their own projects outweighs that of any additional pay they would receive.
“For younger faculty, there’s a lot of pressure to publish and present at conferences and if you can have J-term off…you have five or six weeks you could be working on a book or working on an article,” she explained.
Another factor that has affected J-term’s popularity is a shift in the types of courses students are signing up for. Over the years, students have become less and less interested in the special-topic classes offered compared to classes that can fulfill requirements in their majors or the core curriculum.
The changing demographics of the school may have something to do with this shift.
Ruthi explained that the degrees students are pursuing has changed since she began teaching at Huntington when most students were in liberal arts programs such as English and history.
“Increasingly, people are majoring in bachelor of science programs, like nursing, OTA, and DMA, where they don’t have much room to take electives,” said Ruthi.
Removing J-term also means reducing the number of credit hours required to graduate from 128 to 120. According to Luke Fetters, the faculty actually voted to reduce the number of required hours to 120 in 2013. The change was not implemented then, however, because J-term already provides students with up to eight of those credit hours for free.
This change “brings [Huntington University] into alignment with all of the state schools in Indiana and most of our regional competitors,” said Fetters.
Still, some may worry about what the University will miss out on with the removal of J-term. Keirsh Cochran, chief of campus police and 2013 graduate, believes that J-term added significant value to his experience at HU.
“It was vitally important for me because for my degree I needed an internship, and I got to graduate a semester early because I took that internship during that space.” shared Cochran.
Fetters explained that the University will offer an optional early summer sub-session (what most students would call a “May-term”) to provide internship and trip opportunities in light of J-term’s absence. He added that each department has plans in place for replacing any practicums or internships they currently require to be taken during J-term.
According to Fetters, the May-term option will differ from J-term, however, in that students will have to pay extra tuition and room and board. He explained that the May term might work better with some majors and programs than others.
“I don’t think the majority of students are going to stay on campus, but we’re wanting to have opportunities,” said Fetters. “Our vision for May-term is that we would have a good number of students on campus.”
Even with these plans in place, this change is still pending review by the Higher Learning Commission. While the decision is not likely to change at this point, students should be aware that there may be potential snags in this transition. Students should also not drop their J-term class this year without first talking to their department advisor.
What was once a new and exciting idea designed to make college more meaningful for students has now over time lost its appeal to both students and faculty. While this university may not be in need of J-term or the 4-1-4 calendar anymore, it might be worth remembering the values that inspired it in the first place.