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Throwback Thursday

A Periodic Tale of Departmental Lore (Part 5)

Written by David Lapakko 

When Augsburg was a 4-1-4 school

During the last one-third of the 20th century, all five of the ACTC schools were on a 4-1-4 academic schedule. That meant students took four classes in the fall, four classes in the spring, and one class during the month of January, which was called “Interim Term” or “J-Term.” During Interim, students took only one course which often met for 10 or 12 hours a week, usually for 3 ½ weeks. To this day, Hamline, St. Thomas and St. Catherine’s still have a J-term, but Augsburg bowed out in 2002.

The idea behind Interim was to give students the opportunity to explore things that the standard academic calendar could not accommodate.  For example, as a first-year at Macalester, my Interim course was “Advanced Debate Study Tour,” which was a fancy way of saying we debaters traveled around the nation during the month of January going to speech tournaments. Travel was often a part of J-term courses; it was not uncommon to see a course such as “Discovering the Flora and Fauna of Hawaii,” the sort of thing that was, not surprisingly, a popular option for shivering Minnesotans. And other courses were “topics” courses that weren’t offered at any other time; my second J-term course at Macalester was “Marx on Politics and Religion,” and we met for long stretches at the professor’s home on a frozen lake discussing the works of Karl Marx.

However, over time, that “adventurous” feel to J-term got lost, at least at Augsburg. Rather than offering unique courses–for example, a course in communication ethics or political communication–departments felt squeezed. Students needed their required courses to graduate. And so many departments simply offered their regular courses in a very concentrated 3 ½ week session. After a while, all of this felt like a burden; only a few days separated J-term from spring semester, and students and faculty alike felt pretty stressed. More importantly, it wasn’t the original goal of J-term to provide the same old courses that are offered in the fall and spring. So Interim term went away, and we are now on a schedule that enables spring semester to begin fairly early in January, therefore getting us to commencement in early May, weeks before other 4-1-4 schools such as Hamline, St. Thomas, or even Gustavus and St. Olaf. And, the number of required courses for a bachelor’s degree dropped from 35 to the current 32.

In the end, I don’t miss the burdens of Interim term, but I do miss the adventurous spirit that was its signature component. But we all have more time off between terms, and it’s hard to complain about that!