The issue of JanPlan reform came to the floor of the Student Government Association (SGA) on Sunday, November 1, as Vice President of SGA and Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) member Katie Unsworth reported on the progress of AAC's initiative to improve January on the Hill.
The AAC based most of its discussion on senior exit interviews last spring. The Class of 2009's major criticism of JanPlan, Unsworth said, was that it is not regarded by either students or faculty as a particularly intellectually stimulating month, but rather as a chance for students to take advantage of less schoolwork to goof off, party and ski.
Last February, the nature and future of JanPlan was discussed at an all faculty meeting. President Adams said that he was "deeply nervous" about three perceived problems with the current JanPlan system. The first concern is that a large number of courses are taught by visiting professors rather than full-time College employees. The second concern is that the culture of JanPlan does not promote a serious academic environment, and the third is that curricular and faculty commitment varies tremendously across different college departments.
Both the faculty at the meeting last semester and representatives at the SGA meeting on Sunday agreed overall that, despite its flaws, JanPlan is an important and irreplaceable part of the College experience.
Representatives discussed the disparity between the difficulty of certain JanPlan ventures and the mark they make on a transcript. That is to say, why would a student undertake a difficult internship or independent study when you can take an easy class, get an A and still get far more than your money's worth out of your Sugarloaf season pass?
"There simply is not enough incentive for students to broaden their horizons," Ross O'Connor '11, representative from Averill, said. "For example, there is no academic credit for internships. Also, why is furniture making not graded but African drumming is?"
When it originated in the 1960s, JanPlan was designed to be a period for students and faculty to engage in rich, intensive independent study. Classes were not even offered until the 1970s, and they were graded on a "Pass," "Fail" or "Honors" scale.
Marilyn R. Pukkila, the library's head of instructional services, has taught a JanPlan class every year that she's been on the Hill. "By and large, these are the same issues that people have been discussing for all 25 years that I've been here," she said.
Unsworth said that the AAC is considering taking one or more of several steps to regain the academic merit of JanPlan. These possible steps include, but are not limited to, requiring students to participate in four JanPlans as opposed to the current three, requiring one or more internships and requiring seniors to participate in independent studies.
John Clauson, SGA Webmaster, defended the current JanPlan culture. "Expecting kids to come back three days after new years is asking a lot...[JanPlan] is a nice way to have fun on campus and ease our way back into the academic year."