J-Term: A Winter Wonderland

by / editorial (1) in Opinions /

As we once again gripe and groan about the inadequacy of BannerWeb, it’s easy to lose sight of other registration frustrations many students face as we choose how to spend the chilly month of January.

Instead of enrolling beachside at some Southern Californian college or braving the hustle and bustle of a city school, students of the College choose to spend the greatest four years of their lives in rural Vermont. This four-week haven from the crush of a real semester’s workload is allegedly an opportunity for students to capitalize on their decision to come all the way out to beautiful nowhere. But with a number of students left out in the cold to fulfill important requirements due to dubious course credit policies and a shortage of crucial classes, is this magical month all that the Admissions department dresses it up to be?

J-term’s selling points are its dialed-back rigor and the possibilities its surplus of free time affords: immersion within a singular subject of choice, the pursuit of a passion outside the myopia of one’s major or the exploration of the myriad extracurricular opportunities the College and its activity-laden environs provide. For some, this means taking a break from their strict regimen of lab science courses and indulging their interest in French poetry with a visiting poet, or putting down the paintbrush and trying their hand at business strategy in MiddCORE. For others, it means taking a class on dinosaurs and hitting the slopes every day after lunch. Despite the disparity in rigor, all are valid uses of the term — they demonstrate a willingness to take a break from their primary goal and to explore uncharted territories, academic or otherwise.

In a perfect world, this is the reality of J-term for all. However, many students find themselves incapable of realizing the vision of a semi-academic winter wonderland for one reason or another. Students who are in their first year of language study are required to take a class in that language, which meets five times a week with additional language table and recitation obligations. Others, like double majors or students who have changed their major later than most, discover themselves to be in an even more precarious situation wherein they need to take more credits to complete their major than they have semesters left. Especially in highly class-time intensive concentrations — like the Sciences, where it is simply impossible to take on a full schedule of classes in the field — J-term could be the time in which students can find a class to put themselves back on track. But, most of the time, it is not.

In order to incentivize the idealistic, exploratory usage of J-term propagated by tour guides and PR releases, some majors limit the number of winter term credits they allow to be counted towards one’s degree, while others do not accept any at all. Furthermore, even if one’s major might accept a J-term credit, this does not necessarily guarantee that a class in the subject will even be offered during the term. As a result, students who are in dire need of a major credit are forced to take a more whimsical class than they would have desired — because although learning about craft in the digital age with a visiting professor is insightful and beneficial for those who are interested in the subject matter, it does not serve much of a purpose for a Psych major who needs one more credit but does not have any classes offered in his/her area of study.

Another problem that perhaps exasperates the lack of substantial offerings during the winter term is that the College stands at an impasse regarding course credit. Every J-term, a throng of visiting professors are hired to teach classes within their fields of interest not only to help students expand their horizons, but also to give resident professors time off. If they were to teach a winter term class in addition to two semesters, professors would barely have any time to spend time with their families or conduct their own research between grading periods. Since the College wants its employees to both stay here instead of leaving for another school that will afford them the time off and to publish prominent research to increase its reputation as an institution, most professors are granted that time off. But, at the same time, the departments do not want to award credit for classes taught by professionals who may have a wealth of experience with the subject matter but a dearth of experience in the classroom. Therefore, while the “real” professors are away, students often have to take classes that do not count for anything as they wait for the barons of course credit to return.

While many students do enjoy the multitude of exotic classes and experiential learning opportunities, there still remains a crowd in need of one more credit that they cannot find during J-term. Therefore, in order to promote and encourage the timely success of every enrolled student, it is of vital importance that the College considers offering more courses in all majors that yield credit towards the major. If this makes for fewer classes like “The Elements of Murder,” unless the Chemistry or English department will accept the credit, so be it. The College has a hierarchy of fiduciary responsibilities to its students: ensuring them the opportunity to earn a degree in a four-year time frame should stand much higher than hiring a non-professors to teach supplementary classes.

  • anonymous

    I agree with your comments on J-Term and the misleading admissions speak. Simply getting into ANY J-Term class is difficult, and the choices have become slimmer and less exotic over the past few years. Bannerweb crashed majorly this year creating havoc for all upper classmen registering. JTerm was appealing to me, but my experience has been drudgery in classes that sounded interesting but were overloaded with work and required prior knowledge in the area (which was not disclosed in the description. Williams, for instance, offers a JTerm classes of all sorts, some for major credit and many for career or personal exploration. Thank you for your editorial.