In just eight weeks, the Cal Poly Semester Review Task Force will have an answer to the question: Should Cal Poly become a semester campus?
The eight-week timeline for the task force is one of the shortest attempted by a university looking to switch to semesters, but Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said in a statement to Mustang Daily he is confident the university has already identified the topics it needs to examine to make a “sound and timely decision.”
“Deciding to convert isn’t that hard, but implementing a conversion is very difficult,” Armstrong said in the statement. “And if we decide to convert, we will be very careful to give ourselves time to make sure the conversion is successful.”
The committee members were finalized earlier this week and plan to begin meeting Wednesday. The quarter-long discussion will center around the question of whether semesters are the most efficient way to allow students, staff, faculty and administrators to improve Cal Poly, task force chair Rachel Fernflores said.
Fernflores said the task force has a shorter timeline due to the nature of its goal: solely determining whether the school should convert. Other universities, she said, have examined the contingencies of converting before actually making a decision.
“It’s a very restricted question that the task force is asking,” Fernflores said. “So I would say our job is to answer the question whether we think this would be good for Cal Poly. This is about the future for Cal Poly. If the president decides that we should convert then we would need to answer all these other questions.”
The University of Cincinnati, which services more than twice the number of students as Cal Poly and has twice the number of colleges, established a task force that met weekly for six months before making a decision. The university began using semesters this fall, more than three years after campus administrators announced their decision to switch.
Kettil Cedercreutz, the semester task force chair at the University of Cincinnati, said the university took special care to spend time on the conversion, as he knew it would be a model for other schools in Ohio aiming to switch to semesters. During the switch, the university reduced its number of course offerings by one-third and used it as a chance to completely redo its curriculum, Cedercreutz said.
“It would have been possible to do in a shorter amount of time,” he said. “We had to make a choice of how much of the curriculum we wanted to change.”
Another Ohio school to make the change this year is Ohio State University, Columbus. Senior Ally Marotti, who is the editor-in-chief at the Ohio State University Lantern newspaper, said the switch went relatively well since students who made the transition knew about it from the time they entered college.
Ohio State President Gordon Gee repeatedly compared the switch, which took more than three years to implement, to “planning the Normandy invasion.”
“It just seemed like it was one of those things that was really hard to organize,” Marotti said. “It’d be the same no matter what size your college is.”
While many other schools in the process of converting developed plans during the initial task-force phase, Cal Poly expects to plan the potential conversion during the first half of 2013, Fernflores said. If Armstrong and California State University Chancellor Charles Reed approve the switch, she said the university will need to begin planning immediately so it has adequate time to make the changes it needs to before semesters arrive.
“They (the other universities) were very consistent in their messaging to us, recommending that if we’re going to do it, try to do as much planning as you can,” Fernflores said.
Several factors came together to make this the right time to look at converting, including, the timing of Reed’s departure, Fernflores said. She said it is not a coincidence that Armstrong wants to make a decision before a new chancellor may arrive who is less favorable to conversion.
“We’re kind of on the cusp of something, because the outgoing chancellor has been talking for years about getting quarter schools on semesters,” she said.
The Cal Poly task force has 14 goals mandated by Armstrong, who called for its creation shortly before the beginning of the fall quarter. Among those tasks are determining a set of principles to be used during the conversion, a potential timeline and estimated cost of converting and a recommended course load for students under the new system.
The task force is expected to create a report at its final meeting at the end of fall quarter and will take about a week to finalize the document. Once the report is finished, Fernflores expects the campus will quickly know whether Cal Poly will remain on quarters or switch to semesters.