With the mid term break officially upon us we can all officially take an extended weekend and “try” to catch up on all those readings and assignments that we so desperately need to get done before exams roll around. Yep, just like that the semester is already 2/3rds done. We are into the home stretch of the last three weeks of class and I don’t know about you guys but I’m sitting here asking myself, “Where did the time go?”.
The Midterm break got me thinking though, why does U of T get a midterm break so much later than other universities? Most Ontario institutions (including Western, McMaster, Brock and Carleton) get their breaks in mid to late October which strictly speaking does fall more centered around the middle of the semester anyways. Personally, I think that makes a lot more sense, having a break established directly between the beginning of courses and the December exam dates. Don’t get me wrong, I’m most definitely not complaining about getting a little bit of time off of class but truly I think it should occur two weeks prior to the date in which it currently resides.
This midterm break also got me thinking about the overall structure of the U of T semester system. Last year when sitting in my Political Theory 200 class, my instructor (the utterly brilliant Professor Orwin) explained how over the course of his time at this institution he has been required to “cover material which used to be given a 14 and a half week course length (per semester) but now has been shortened to a ridiculous 13 week period”. This really worried me because if even the professor felt that the course itself was highly condensed, then how the heck was I suppose to survive the onslaught of philosophy coming my way the next 13 weeks!
So why do we have such shortened semesters? Well after a little research I found the answer. You see due to our long history as a university, U of T has always maintained a two semester system. Meaning that both the Fall and Winter sessions are given about 13 weeks of instructional time respectively. With the option to also partake in summer sessions which are highly condensed. U of T and many other Universities are structured this way because historically the period when students were needed most with their families was during the summer harvests (for some reason I think of the scene in Star Wars episode IV a New Hope where Luke can’t go to the academy because his uncle needs him for the harvest… gosh I’m such a nerd sometimes). But is a break away from this two semester system and into a tri-semester system alternatively a better option?
With a tri-semester system there are three equally balanced terms in which to partake in. Meaning that the option to do “summer school” isn’t really summer school, rather it is simply doing courses in the third semester. Consider Simon Fraser University or the University of Waterloo. At Waterloo the co-op programs are widely renowned as being extremely beneficial and successful in regards to work experience for their students but they only work due to the universities ability to balance semesters in a three part system. It allows the university to have a revolving door of sorts so that students can take time to do the co-op programs/be enrolled in courses freely throughout the year. The concept of a three semester system also allows facilities to be used all year long and students and faculty are offered more flexible schedule options in general.
Now obviously U of T is a complex network of programs and faculties that would make it difficult to implement such a system. Our entire framework is built upon our historic two semester operations which have worked for us for literally over a hundred years. But I think it is important to note that there are always many alternatives to consider. Maybe my Pol200 prof was right, it simply is ridiculous to expect the same course work to be covered in less time. Maybe the answer is to slowly overhaul the entire timeline into accordance with many younger universities. It seems that not only are the students under strain these days to keep up with demanding condensed course loads but even the professors are feeling the heat! For a more in depth article on the dual semester/ tri-semester system check out this article here.
But enough with all this heavy thinking, more importantly enjoy your two day break everybody! Whether you spend it hitting the books or decide to spend it distressing and watch an entire season of the walking dead, both options I believe are a Fall Break well spent.