The end is near.
Finals loom on the horizon. The grades of papers hastily put together and midterms thrown to capricious luck start weighing on a collective conscience. Oddly enough, the regret is always the same: I wish I had done more by doing less. Not having taken so many classes to be able to focus on only a few. Learned to say “no,” or at the very least, “maybe next time.”
I tell myself I’m being whiny, that this sinking feeling was due to my poor planning. Maybe I’ll learn in time what is reasonable and what isn’t. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t a matter of age or experience. Plenty of upperclassmen have presented the same elusive time symptoms—I’m definitely not alone.
But when I am alone with a hundred pages of reading and unending problem sets, I can’t help but revisit the idea over and over again: Why not adopt a trimester schedule?
We came here to acquire a well-rounded education, and a trimester system would be conducive to comprehensive learning. Presumably, we were chosen among many to enrich Columbia with a wide array of abilities. The University loves to advertise its Core as a tool to acquire ultimate academic stimulation. Yet curiosity for old texts goes out the window the moment fear of failure pokes its head through the door.
In fact, my friends attending small, liberal arts colleges often point out that Columbians keep their futures very much in the present. It’s true. We strive to study what will be useful, often juggling jobs and extracurricular activities. Going to sleep with blaring sirens and quietly imposing buildings is a constant reminder that Real Life is out there, and it won’t stop for us. Still, in the back of our minds, we know that these years may well be the only time we have to study whatever we want. Even as practicality teaches us that it is impossible to be everything, a train ride can take us to the heart of the most magical and serendipitous city in the world.
And so, the point of a trimester schedule would not be to make terms easier but richer. In fact, we would be working harder on learning a semester’s worth of material in 10 weeks. Less divided attention would facilitate delving headfirst into a course, indirectly making it “easier” to care about, and to excel.
Changing the system would cater to the indecisive and curious alike. We could take more classes overall, with as few as three classes per trimester. If we want to take nine classes per year now, it’s inevitable to take five in one semester. Studying for five courses is not impossible, but it’s also not ideal. SEAS students often remind me that in some cases, they have to take a minimum of five classes per semester to fulfill major and Core requirements. Vanities aside, some students resign themselves to reducing the worlds of chemistry, calculus, and literature to five nights of sleepless cramming because they have to.
Of course, the most obvious shortcoming of a trimester system is that it will do nothing to dissuade those obsessed with quantity over quality. Personalities won’t change just because a schedule does. However, the message behind a trimester improvement is that we recognize the value in work, not that we can’t handle it.
To be fair—and frank—a switch to a trimester schedule is about the last thing on anybody’s list of priorities. In fact, whenever I brought up the topic among my peers, the automatic response was, “Well, that’s nice. It’s never happening.”
But it can. Behind every bitter complaint about classes lies a denied possibility of taking matters into our own hands.
If nothing else, opening my door to student body candidates last week made me take a leap of faith. I was surprised to find out that it had been students who turned Butler into a 24/7 library, or undergraduates who had conceived and implemented Columbia’s no-loan policy.
It is ridiculous that even first-years have to be convinced against cynicism. The manner in which we bemoan our administration even before setting foot on campus can only be blind conformity. Our “learned resentfulness” is no proof of being as talented and motivated as we appear.
Once I decided to listen, I realized that perhaps my fellow students had nothing but good intentions. Yet, as the road to Hell would testify, optimism starves on good wishes alone. Ultimately, accountability and transparency are a two-way agreement. It’s harder for representatives to do their jobs when they realize nobody’s watching.
Once we cohesively navigate through administration, a trimester schedule can bring us a better learning experience. The end is near. Or is it the beginning?
Cecilia Reyes is a Columbia College first-year. She is on the board of the Artist Society. Reyesing Expectations runs alternate Mondays.