UT-Austin administration working on changes to academic calendar

Sheryl Lawrence

UT may introduce shorter semesters and extend Thanksgiving break as the University administration works on changes to the academic calendar to meet updated federal aid and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board requirements introduced in 2019.

The proposed changes include reducing the number of class days in the spring from 74 to 70 days, starting the spring semester a week earlier, extending Thanksgiving break to a full week and reducing the final exam schedule from six to four days. The University will implement the changes starting in the 2022-2023 academic year, according to the draft of the resolution at time of publication.

The University delayed proposing any changes to the academic calendar sooner because of pandemic disruptions.

Mark Simpson, assistant vice provost for enrollment services and University registrar, and Tim Shanahan, co-lead on the initiative to modify the academic calendar, said the changes are not finalized as they continue to meet with offices and groups on campus to talk about how the changes will affect everyone at the University. The University will vote to finalize the changes in late April, Shanahan said.

Simpson said when the Department of Education changed the requirements in November 2019 for academic calendars, it provided an opportunity for universities to have conversations about what changes they can make. 

“They provided an opportunity for us to redefine our academic calendar. (It) gives us more flexibility in how our calendar is defined right now,” Simpson said. “It gives us an opportunity to add a little bit more flexibility and accommodate the innovation needs that our campus community has.”

Grant Marconi, chair of the Student Government financial affairs committee, said the assembly has been advocating for a week-long Thanksgiving break and has received a good response from the administration. 

SG assembly passed a resolution in November 2020 in support of creating a full week off for Thanksgiving break instead of three days. Of the 143 students they surveyed, zero students said extending the Thanksgiving break would not be helpful. 

“When you compare (UT) to other elite universities, we’re falling behind,” said Marconi, a Spanish and finance junior. 

Law school SG representative Jordan Cope said he thinks a shorter semester would be beneficial to students, but the shortened exam schedule may be difficult for students.

“It’s going to be questionable whether the student body is going to want to have a confined exam period to only a few days,” law student Cope said. “In theory, (it) sounds great in terms of preserving time and affording students larger breaks. (But it) might prove more stressful for the student body when it has to come to terms (with) a tighter exam schedule.

Simpson said UT proposed shortening the final exam schedule to accommodate student concerns about the length of exams and safety since students are released from tests at night and have to find ways to make their way home safely. 

“Right now, our model is we have three three-hour exams a day over six days, and there’s a two-hour break between (them),” Simpson said. “Exams are going until 10 o’clock at night, and there’s a worry about safety.”

With the current proposed changes, exams will begin and end an hour earlier from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Simpson said the faculty is also tending to move away from final exams and is implementing final papers and projects instead.