The Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA) Working Group on Student Orientation is moving towards a decision on possible changes to the first year orientation program. Depending on which proposal the GFA endorses, there may be substantive changes made to both the academic and orientation calendars. 

The working group was formed last February at the request of Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster following the announcement of mandatory Orientation trips for the Class of 2016. In a school-wide email, Foster asked the GFA to create a committee to assess the results of this year’s Orientation and to use their findings to refashion the program.

The committee identified several key elements for an optimal welcome for first years: a single day for arrival, a group experience at the start of Orientation, a face-to-face academic advising process, and giving students earlier exposure to their full schedule, in order to give students a less hectic Phase II and add/drop period.

The Working Group has produced several tentative options for next year’s orientation schedule, and shared them at last month’s faculty meeting, as well as with the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) at their October 17 meeting. 

The first possibility is to simply reuse this year’s Orientation schedule for the Class of 2017. Foster said that according to a survey taken by the first-year class, this year’s program was “resoundingly well received.” Retaining this option would require no consent from faculty or other governing bodies. 

The other option, called “Option 7,” would push arrival back three days, add an extra day, demand earlier teacher arrival for advising, and two extra days added to the first week of classes. The schedule provides more time for students, advisors and departments to make course changes and extends Phase II registration. A full-length first week of classes allows all students to get a better taste of their schedule.

Both Foster and Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett present Option 7 as a means of improving an already strong Orientation experience. Hazlett described the current Tuesday arrival day as “very inconvenient for all families” considering that “families are forced to take vacation time from their jobs.” 

When presenting the proposal to BSG, Foster also mentioned that the addition of two days at the start of the year raised the “possibility that we could revisit the discussions on a full week of Thanksgiving break.” Hazlett—who last year was part of the committee that proposed extending Thanksgiving break—noted that the Orientation changes would undoubtedly affect the entire academic calendar.

“I think you can’t help considering the two together, given we just had the conversation a year ago,” she said.

Hazlett said that the loss of a class period for courses meeting on Tuesday and Thursday and a shortened Fall Break led faculty to vote down last year’s Thanksgiving proposal. Hazlett added that under Option 7, both of these problems would be rectified.

However, the schedule changes have been met with opposition from faculty members. Chair of the Classics Department Barbara Boyd thought the benefits of the two extra days of classes in the first week are outweighed by the fact that “Orientation is slowly but surely moving more and more into the month of August.” 

While acknowledging the pedagogical merits of a longer first week of school, she said that some faculty worry this might cut into time for their independent projects.  

“If you’re conducting a significant research project, trying to write a book, write a paper, or experimenting in a lab, these are things that benefit from continuous time,” she said.

At the moment, the future of these changes is not altogether set. For Option 7 to take effect next year, the  faculty would have to vote in support of it.

“You can expect one of two things to happen at the next faculty meeting:,” said Foster. “We’ll either first give a report and update and not make a motion, or we’ll make a motion for the faculty to vote on what we were leaning towards proposing in our straw poll—or it could be entirely different.”