Interterm weaknesses need more than an all-or-nothing solution

At some institutions, January has evolved into a mandatory mini-semester of unusual courses such as Williams College’s 4-1-4. Others offer courses, which, though required and graded, do not count toward one’s GPA. The College’s Interterm, on the other hand, has become little more than an extended vacation for the vast majority of the student body.

Interterm was not always this unstructured. Before the turn of the century the College funded elective courses taught by either faculty members or upperclassmen. But in 2000 the College Council examined the struggling Interterm program and released a report recommending drastic changes to the system.

The Council eliminated funding for elective courses and extended the hours of the library, gym and campus center. As exemplified by today’s Interterm itinerary, the Council proposed “a regular program of low-key entertainment events.” In accordance with the Council’s wishes, Interterm 2006’s programming was almost exclusively of the non-academic, entertainment variety. We applaud the administration for scheduling successful and enjoyable events this year. Still, we feel that Interterm could be more meaningful to more students if activities of an academic nature were reintroduced.

We do not believe in a mandatory Interterm program, as it is an important time for winter athletes and senior thesis-writers. That said, a January filled with nothing more than frivolity is a waste of what could be an invaluable time for learning. With the proper support and planning, Interterm could allow students to take courses that normally do not fit within their schedule (e.g. language courses). January could also host smaller versions of classes that are regularly over enrolled. A professor recently offered such a course, but had to do so at her own expense. Clearly, not every professor is available or willing to teach during the extended winter vacation, but the current lack of funding makes teaching an Interterm course nearly unthinkable.

Whatever incentive the College might decide to offer to lure students back (e.g. offering credit), the administration needs to give an educational Interterm a fair chance. The 2000 Interterm’s budget was double that of the year before, but poor attendance that year spelled the end of course funding entirely. If Interterm courses prior to 2000 were insufficiently funded, a one-year spike in monetary support and advertising could not have been sufficient to reinvigorate the program. The administration needs to make a long-term commitment to improving Interterm.