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Will CMC Follow Dartmouth?

April 27, 2009

by Michael Wilner
Will CMC Follow Dartmouth?

CMC President Pamela Gann has instructed Dean of Faculty Greg Hess to review the possible benefits of adopting a Dartmouth model here at the College. The plan, known colloquially as the “D-Plan,” is a scheduling system that has all students take one semester off in either their sophomore or junior years, which is then replaced with a required summer session for all rising juniors. “It’s both to accommodate families and student schedules and to see if we could run our college more efficiently, without really changing who we are,” says Dean Hess. “It’s definitely a big step.” The plan would increase the student body by 150 students – without building a single new dormitory – and the administration projects that it would bring in roughly $1 million in added net revenue per year for CMC.

CMC wouldn’t necessarily copy the D-Plan's every detail. For example, CMC may only allow students to choose between one of their two semesters of junior year to withdraw. The idea was originally posed by Gordon Bjork, a founder of the PPE program at CMC and a graduate of Dartmouth himself. Yet conversation within the CMC community has only just started, and the plan is being taken more seriously than ever. Hess and CMC Registrar Elizabeth Morgan have spoken to the Dean of the College at Dartmouth at length to get a grasp of the plan’s details, and Gann has informed the Council of Presidents of CMC’s exploratory review.

Many faculty members are already raising concerns that the plan would do more harm than good. Without students consistently on campus during the two central years of their college careers, many believe that academic opportunities and essentials – including the completion of one’s major – may become hurdles. In addition, those majoring off-campus or those who want to take electives at another college would run into difficulty, finding that the breadth of coursework usually offered is not available during the summer. Scripps and Pitzer may not want to fund the Joint Science Department for a summer term, and their support would be necessary for the plan to move forward. Additional faculty would be needed as well. “The faculty are interested in doing this if there’s a really good academic reason for doing so,” says Hess. Furthermore, applications for admission to Claremont McKenna, now at an all-time high, may decrease due to the new, unorthodox structure. When asked about the plan, CMC Dean of Admissions Richard Vos raised numerous concerns. “Not enough of the details of the CMC version of the Dartmouth Plan have been worked out,” he said.

Those details will be worked out over the rest of the calendar year. Hess expects much of the work to be done over the summer, with a more detailed report released by December. The report will be read closely by all of the Claremont College presidents, some of which are considering joining the plan themselves. Both Gann and Hess have spoken of deep interest from at least two other colleges, but neither identified which.

Proponents of the plan say the schedule structure offers unique opportunities to both students and faculty. Students would get to choose which of the four terms they take off, and making them candidates for internships that aren’t typical for college students. Faculty would be able to organize programs lasting three consecutive semesters without a stop. And it allows science majors to conduct experiments during the summer that wouldn’t normally be available during a classic academic year. “The central question this plan raises is: why don’t you run your college all year long?” Hess says. “Why do you need a period for things to lay fallow? It’s not like the campus needs to regenerate itself.”

It is difficult to determine whether or not adopting of the Dartmouth Plan would change the character of the school. The cohesive nature of a class may be jeopardized by its dispersion over sophomore and junior years, but Dartmouth insists that, on the contrary, it is strengthened by a unique bonding experience over the summer term. “I would not see any consideration of such a change at CMC to be a ‘change in character,’” Gann states. “Rather, we should do this only if we think that on balance it is done in such a way as to provide significant added value.”

Ultimately these questions will be fleshed out. But it may come down to a simple problem: Claremont, unfortunately, is no Hanover in summertime.

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