In an effort to generate revenue, the University is considering plans for an undergraduate summer program, slated to begin in summer 2010. In the past few weeks, the administration has sought input from faculty and the student body through the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) in forming a proposal for such a program that will appeal to all the members of the University.
“By the end of this summer, we’ll have a proposal that’s built around a cluster of courses,” explained President Michael Roth. “It’s a pilot program, so it won’t be huge, but it will be much larger than anything we’ve ever done.”
Director of Strategic Initiatives Charles Salas met with the WSA two weeks ago to discuss various models for programs that would be attractive to students. Faculty members also gathered this past Tuesday to consider what a small pilot program might include.
“If [the summer program] doesn’t appeal to students, there’s no point in the University wasting their time and energy and resources to put it together,” said WSA President Mike Pernick ’10. “So I believe that the WSA and the student leaders who take the time to look through these issues should be their first stop in consultation to develop a good proposal.”
The concern for student input is certainly warranted, especially given the poor performance of the Summer Language Institute that was proposed for last summer and whose programs in Spanish and French were cancelled due to lack of student interest. According to Salas, this occurred despite market analysis that suggested the program would be a success.
“It was really abysmal, and one of the reasons was that it wasn’t priced competitively, and they didn’t consult enough with students to develop a program that would be attractive,” Pernick said.
Although discussions about the summer program began in January, plans for the program are still in their initial stages and specific proposals are not expected until fall 2009.
“First, we need to come up with a proposal that students and faculty have thought through and think is reasonable to do,” Salas said. “Then we’ll try to create it, and we’ll see if students come.”
Both Salas and Pernick expressed their support for creating institutes rather than a full range of courses, which would provide a different type of experience for students from the regular school year. According to Salas, the Film Studies Department has already expressed an interest in forming such an institute during the summer.
“We have a phenomenal Film Department here, and capitalizing on that skill set would… hopefully be a successful program,” Pernick said. “I also think it would be great if we had an environmental summer program. We just developed a new Environmental Studies major… and Wesleyan has been leading the pack in that field… It would be a special experience—beyond what you get during the normal academic year, and would be something that could be attractive.”
Roth also noted that other possible institutes or academic clusters might concentrate on social change or public policy, psychology and pre-med. Salas expects five to six clusters for the pilot year.
Pernick added that by offering classes that are very popular during the regular school year and therefore difficult to get into, the University would grant students greater academic flexibility.
At this point in the process, however, a number of concerns remain, including whether or not the University will be able to provide financial aid to students.
“We’re thinking about discounting the tuition…for everybody, but we’ll still have some limited financial aid—at least that’s what we’re talking about right now,” Roth said. Other concerns include organizing University offices in the summer, and granting University credit for shorter summer programs which might admit non-Wesleyan students and be taught by non-Wesleyan faculty. In addition, there have been rumors that a summer term will become mandatory for all students. Salas insisted that this is not the case.
In its first three years, the Yale University Summer Session—which has been in place since 1975—had a model that essentially counted as one semester of residence for students and faculty. William Whobrey, Dean of Yale Summer Session and Special Programs, explained in an interview with The Argus that this program, while not mandatory, allowed students to fulfill a semester’s worth of coursework in the summer. Because Yale was forced to hire new faculty to replace those who had taught in the summer and took a fall or spring semester off, it changed the nature of the program. Since 1979, students have received credit from the program, but not a full term’s worth.
In planning a model for the summer program, Wesleyan has looked at a number of different university programs, including Yale’s. As it stands, the summer term could last anywhere from four to seven weeks, and students would likely be able to receive only two credits.
“The concerns that the faculty have right now are the right ones—is there a financial model that could make this work?” Salas noted after Tuesday’s faculty meeting. “The answer is yes, but it’s dependent on student interest. It’s not even clear that the University will make money, and it’s not driven entirely by that. That being said, it’s not a good time to take on more liabilities… In the end, the students will vote with their tuition.”
Salas said that he remains open to any student input before the University decides on a more specific proposal in the fall.
“There have been some concerns, but overall, I think students are eager to see what the plans are, and hope that it will be something that’s in mind with our core academic mission and enhances the experience for Wesleyan students,” Pernick said.