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Pitt explains oddities of spring semester calendar

Many Pitt students found themselves asking the same question as they returned to campus for the… Many Pitt students found themselves asking the same question as they returned to campus for the start of the spring semester: Why Wednesday?

To the surprise of students and faculty, a few of whom were angry, the first term of the decade kicked off in the middle of the workweek yesterday, starting on a Wednesday to satisfy aspects of the University’s complex five-year calendar plan.

Patricia Beeson, vice provost for graduate and undergraduate studies, mapped out the subtleties of the calendar plan Wednesday afternoon.

“We have very strict guidelines when setting up the academic calendar here at Pitt,” Beeson said. “We work on a five-year cycle. Three out of five years, the University starts the spring semester on a Wednesday. The other two years the semester starts on Monday.”

The fluctuations depend on several factors, she explained, including on which day of the week New Year’s Day falls and the dates of the first weekend in January.

Beeson said the University always starts classes on the fourth, fifth or sixth of January. If these days fall closer to a Wednesday, then classes start on Wednesday. If they fall closer to a Monday, then classes start Monday.

“It all depends on when New Year’s falls,” Beeson said. “We have to make sure to give students and staff enough of a break between the holiday and the start of the term. So when New Year’s comes later in the week, classes don’t start until the following Wednesday.”

Beeson dismissed the speculation some students had that the economy caused Pitt to change its schedule in order to save money.

“We haven’t changed our calendar guidelines at all because of the economy or funding,” she said. “The only change we’ve made in recent years was the introduction of the fall break, at the request of students.”

Like most large universities, Pitt has an independent Calendar Committee that is responsible for developing the University’s schedule. The committee includes professors, as well as provosts, other faculty members and, sometimes, students.

“The committee always brings in students to discuss issues with scheduling if they are going to deviate from the five-year cycle,” Beeson said. “We always make sure students participate in the discussion.”

Chelsea Vincent, a physics and astronomy major, was perturbed by the calendar’s quirks.

Vincent lives in Maine and flies out of Pittsburgh for the holidays. She normally schedules flights months in advance to get the cheapest ticket prices, but this semester Vincent’s plans backfired when she realized students could not move back into their dorms until Tuesday.

“I was ready to fly back in on Saturday, recuperate on Sunday and start class on Monday, just like last year,” she said.

As Vincent was unable to move into her dorm early, she chose to reschedule the return leg of her flight, which she said cost $150. Her only other option, she explained, was paying for a hotel room.

“I figured there must be exchange students and others staying in the dorms over the break,” she said. “I figured moving back in a day or two early wouldn’t be a big deal.”

“I’m a college student, I don’t have that kind of money to throw around,” Vincent said.

In addition to the controversial start date, the spring semester ends a week later than last year. Beeson said the end date is also part of the calendar plan, and is contingent on the date of commencement ceremonies.

Commencements at Pitt are scheduled for the last weekend of April or the first or second day of May. Beeson explained that because the last complete weekend in April falls early this year, the end of the term is pushed back.

“Hashing out the schedule is not easy,” Beeson said. “We need to offer a certain number of courses and class meetings, while at the same time keeping to the Pitt tradition of ending the spring semester before May.”

Pitt News Staff

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Pitt News Staff

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