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Professors object to semester switch

The controversy over the potential switch from quarters to semesters has started a quarrel among professors.

An exchange of heated e-mails among faculty late Tuesday and early Wednesday illustrates the rising tension as the University Senate prepares to vote on the issue today.

Tuesday evening, Robert Arkin, a professor of psychology, sent an e-mail to his fellow Arts & Science faculty on behalf of himself and 11 of his colleagues, voicing his displeasure over the switch. “A number of faculty members have reservations about the process by which this resolution has been put on the Senate agenda,” he said in the e-mail. “It has occurred with great haste, little time to deliberate, very few clear answers to important questions, and without a definitive quorum at the time of the Faculty Council vote.”

The e-mail goes on to say that many faculty members feel the switch will hurt their research, disadvantage students and prove costly during a time of significant financial strain. It concludes with a link to an anonymous survey created by faculty members on surveymonkey.com asking whether the faculty favors the switch, whether it has been handled well and if the vote should be delayed.

Wednesday morning, Jefferey Mckee, an anthropology professor and member of the Faculty Senate, sent back an unhappy reply.

The e-mail begins, “Dear Colleagues, I am disappointed that you would sign on to an ill-informed message and promote an unprofessional survey.”

McKee noted the survey as the primary cause for disappointment. “The survey promoted in the e-mail was introduced with bias, is unscientific, and will carry no weight,” he said in the e-mail.

The back-and-forth exchange continued with an e-mail from Arkin later that morning.

“Dr. McKee’s accusation that the poll is unprofessional is not only rude, but wrong. Further, it is irrelevant, in my view. The real issue is what is right for Ohio State, not for the Governor, Chancellor, or anyone other than the faculty, students, and staff,” Arkin said in his response.

He went on to discredit the committee report that McKee cited in his e-mail. McKee said Arkin missed the point.

Arkin said that he received about 50 e-mails in response to his initial message, with only two being negative and only one being “rude.”

Among the positive responses was a message from a woman who was only referred to as an “Eminent Scholar.” She said that she retired, at least in part, because of the potential switch.

“Apart from the long-term effects of semester conversion on academic productivity, the short-term costs of conversion are huge and the formulas that are used to estimate the cost are serious underestimates because they do not in any adequate way reflect the tremendous costs in faculty and staff time that it entails,” she said. But McKee says it’s important to remember that this decision goes beyond the OSU campus.

“This thing is bigger than us, it’s from the Board of Regents. The concern is justified, it’s a very big and expensive switch, but there are many potential advantages in a semester system versus a quarter system. It allows us to cover material more in-depth with students.”

Arkin says he doesn’t understand why some are so invested in switching to semesters, but does offer one explanation.

“There are people on this campus who have been co-opted, who have been schmoozed politically and they are now deeply involved in making this happen because powerful people asked them to make it happen,” he said. “OSU is not by its self. Princeton, Stanford, Northwestern, all use a quarter system. The quarter system is a draw for many brilliant scholars to come research and instruct at the university. I find it disappointing that the chancellor and others don’t seem to realize that.”

If the switch is approved today, it will move to the Board of Trustees for approval in April. The proposal calls for a switch to semesters no earlier than Autumn 2012.

Richard Oviatt can be reached at oviatt.3@osu.edu.

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