“These are unprecedented times” has become a common refrain, and they indeed are. One thing Columbia students can count on, however, is a well-intentioned administrative decision that turns into a disaster for many.
Last summer, Columbia announced a modified academic calendar that includes a Summer A and a Summer B term in order to add flexibility for students struggling through a pandemic education. At first, I thought it was, if nothing else, an intriguing idea that would enable students to minimize the time they spend in online classes and maximize opportunities for creating a semi-normal, less stressful academic experience. I have now come to realize that this new system mutilated the two regular semesters and left us with a lopsided quarter system that disguises Columbia’s failure to consider the mental and financial strains on its students under the pretense of offering them adaptability.
The issues caused by the modified academic schedule manifested early on. In a foreign, taxing, and unusual academic atmosphere, students and instructors were required to rush through syllabi and research that had already had to be refashioned for an online format. Instructors repeatedly and frantically announced that students needed to pick up their paces because “we have less time than expected”—a phrase which has now become cliché. Zoom fatigue was met with fewer long weekends, shorter holiday breaks, and hastily amended coursework, doing little to relieve anxieties caused by the pandemic.
While taking summer courses is not required, these terms can come at a great cost to those who do not use them and cause academic fatigue to those who do. Many students who are considering taking the summer terms find themselves anxious about taking full advantage of the disappointingly limited, disorganized course offerings and the stress-inducing formats of the intensives. These summer terms resemble the abridged and hurried curriculum of six-month online bachelor’s certificates rather than the measured, calculated learning process that students seek. A student could conceivably spread out a two semester load over the two regular semesters and two intensive semesters, but it is no challenge to theorize why 12 consecutive months of online classes may not be a healthy option for undergraduates.
For those who do want to take the summer classes but also need to partake in internships or get a job, the schedule poses daunting challenges. Even one course per term or two in one term and none in the other leaves students with just enough free time to have a job or internship but not enough to actually rest. Moreover, for students who need housing in New York for jobs, internships, or research positions that will help them finance their tuition or student contribution, the minimum six credit requirement of full-time summer enrollment makes getting housing an unusually massive commitment. On top of this, many students would need to exceed the 40-credit maximum that Columbia has placed on this academic cycle in order to take six credits in the summer and be full-time, which would incur further pay-per-credit costs.
The summer terms fall short of their purpose of providing flexibility and instead reduce the quality of the Columbia experience. The scheme exemplifies the administration’s failure to consider the many different circumstances that influence students’ academic and personal needs: The new academic calendar works only if a student is willing to deal with following two semesters of work with less than one week of break and heavy workloads in fast-paced intensive classes. If they are not willing to put up with these problems, they will have to suffer the consequences of an academic calendar they did not choose and the steep price they paid throughout the year to accommodate it. It leaves many wondering who the administration had in mind when the schedule was conceived.
Julien Roa is a Columbia College freshman majoring in classics and art history. When he is not cycling in Malibu, he enjoys rereading the Silmarillion and listening to 99% Invisible.
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