Faculty: End of Summer Term Means Tradeoffs

As they prepare to guide the final January cohort into the homestretch of its summer term, several faculty members contacted last week said they would have mixed feelings about the end of the alternative schedule.

While teaching during the summer occasionally raised some significant scheduling conflicts – especially for faculty with children on the traditional U.S. school schedule – having the option of instructing the January cohort also provided some professors with welcome flexibility in scheduling projects outside the classroom.

In addition to the personal impacts, the professors contacted predicted that the end of the January cohort will mean a reduction in the diversity of the classroom experiences available at HBS, noting that the Summer term is a fairly unique experience.

They said they would miss factors like the relatively small teaching groups and streamlined HBS administrative bureaucracy – as well as the shorter lines at campus facilities.

All Together Again
Professor Huw Pill, who is currently teaching Business, Government and the International Economy to Sections I and K, said the option of teaching in a Spring term, then not teaching again until the following summer had given some professors the opportunity to assemble a significant block of time for research.

“In the new world, if you teach BGIE, you’ll know that from January through May, you have to be here,” Pill said.
In addition, inter-institution networking often goes on during the summer, when most business schools are not in session.
“There are a whole set of conferences that I’m excluded from traveling to, although a lot of them have been in Boston, so I have been able to attend,” he said.

Pill’s colleague, BGIE summer course head Deborah Spar, called upon a recent personal experience – the stress of having to get her school-age children started in summer camp before racing to her Section J classroom – to illustrate some of the downsides of the summer term, when most academic families are able to take more time off.

“My logistics have been a disaster,” Spar said. However, she said that challenge is not as great as the one she would have faced if she had been forced to teach last Spring – at the same time she faced a March book deadline. The opportunity to teach in the summer instead “was a godsend,” she said.

Difference in the Classroom
“The pedagogical dynamic in the summer is a mixed bag,” Pill said. “People are more laid-back, which can have good and bad aspects: People are less prepared in general, but there is less of a competitive dynamic that can sometimes emerge in sections and that can be destructive.”

Spar said she has detected more of a sense of community among the January cohort members than in the student body at large.
“There is something really nice about having 350 people on campus by themselves,” Spar said. “My sense is that there’s a lot more interaction across the sections.”

However, Spar questioned whether the 18-month program’s compressed schedule was too much, too fast.

“This is an intense place, and you guys have been doing it for a really long stretch of time without a break,” she said.
And they said the students aren’t the only people who are more laid-back in the summer: The administration gets into the spirit as well, and both Spar and Pill said they have enjoyed the less-formal interaction of their three-person teaching group.

“When there’s 10 people there, it’s a different dynamic,” Spar said.

And while the nicer weather might be a distraction for the students in the windowless Aldrich classrooms, the summer term has helped mitigate the impact of another feature of the Boston climate.

“The great part of this is that I don’t have to worry about getting out of my driveway when there is three feet of snow,” Spar said. “That may change come January.”

July 16, 2001
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