Trinity to Offer Half-Credit Courses during January Break

So-Called "J-Term" Courses can only be taken as Electives

HARTFORD, CT, May 31, 2013 – For Trinity students who want to expand their intellectual horizons or just put some space between themselves and their parents during the long winter break, the College will welcome them back for two weeks during mid-January, beginning in 2014.

On the recommendation of the Curriculum Committee, faculty members adopted a proposal calling for a three-year pilot program that would allow students to enroll in two-week, 20-hour courses during the so-called J-Term, a shorthand name for the “January Term.” Each course will be worth a half-credit and undergraduates will receive a letter grade. In its inaugural year, the term will run from January 6 through January 17.

The expectation is that the J-Term will have a positive impact on campus life during the January recess and will provide a new venue for innovative course design. The faculty voted unanimously for the trial program at its April meeting.

In a typical year, about 300 students are on campus in January, including athletes and international students. Other students have expressed an interest in using that time productively.

Speaking on behalf of the Curriculum Committee, Johannes Evelein, associate professor of language and culture studies, told his colleagues, “We decided that a three-year period would allow us to launch a program, learn from the first year, tweak it, and over a three-year period arrive at something” that can either be continued or abandoned.

Faculty members had until Wednesday, May 29, to signal their intention to offer a course, although they didn’t have to spell out the specifics. Associate Academic Dean Sheila Fisher said the College administration wanted to gauge faculty interest before everyone scattered for the summer.

Fisher, who will give up the rotating dean’s position and return to teaching on July 1, said the goal was to have a minimum of six to eight course proposals. That goal was met, although she noted that just because a faculty member suggested a course, nothing “is set in stone” and no commitments have been made.

“We wanted to get a sense of the lay of the land,” she said, which was successfully done.

The next step in the process will be having the course proposals submitted to the Curriculum Committee in September, at which time Sonia Cardenas, the Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Human Rights Program, will have assumed the position of associate academic dean and secretary of the committee.  

Fisher said the J-Term courses will receive rigorous scrutiny and will be approved “just like any other undergraduate courses.”

Fisher said she was pleased that the course ideas that were presented by May 29 came from all five academic disciplines: the humanities, social sciences, the arts, natural sciences, and numerical and symbolic reasoning. They range from abbreviated versions of courses that have been offered during the academic year to new courses that faculty members may be interested in adding to the curriculum.

If the latter is the case, Fisher said, the J-Term may be the ideal time to do a “dry run.”

Flexibility will also be at the heart of the J-Term. Professors will be able to configure the schedule any way they choose; for example, some courses may meet for two hours a day over all 10 days, or four hours a day for one week. In any event, students may enroll in only one course.

Students will be able to register for a J-Term course during the fall registration period up to the Thanksgiving break. Faculty members will know with certainty whether their courses will be part of the January schedule no later than December 1, Fisher said.

Overall, Fisher called the new program “a great idea” and said the faculty’s enthusiasm – as evidenced by its unanimous vote and the course ideas that have been put forth – is very encouraging.

Noting that many of Trinity’s peer schools already have introduced a January term, Fisher said, “There’s a lot of flexibility built into it. It does seem to be a time in which students and faculty can meet outside the pressures of the regular academic year.”