Students have differing views on UR’s new unit system

by Anna Kuta

The University of Richmond faculty's decision to change from the hour system to the unit system has been met with both opposition and acceptance by students.

As of the fall of 2008, all classes will be measured in units. The effect of the change was first seen in the spring as students registered for their fall classes.

All courses in the arts and sciences, business and leadership studies schools are now weighted under the unit system, and student transcripts will be converted to units beginning in May 2008, according to the Academic Advising website.

The university was previously using the hour system. Under the hour system, a typical class was either three or four hours, indicative of the time recommended that students spend on work for each hour spent in class.

A unit is equal to 3.5 credit hours, Joe Kent, the interim provost, said. The primary motivation behind the change was to get students to focus on four courses per semester in an in-depth manner rather than five courses per semester, he said.

"After some compromises the total number of units required for graduation was set at 35," Kent said, "which means that during three of eight semesters a student might take five units." With AP and transfer credit, most students will only need four courses per semester to graduate in four years, Kent said.

With the change to units, the total number of courses the typical student must take during four years will be reduced, the curriculum will be simplified, staffing flexibility will be expanded, and clearer expectations across courses will be created. These goals are listed on the university's website.

The majority of private national liberal arts colleges comparable to UR have a system where students take four courses in a typical semester, Kent said. Some call them units and others measure in semester hours with most courses being four semester hours, he said.

Many of these schools have an additional short term or winter term where students take a single course, Kent said.

The decision to move to units was proposed and voted on by the faculty. Thirty-six of the top 40 colleges in a U.S. News & World Report survey required that students take an average of four rather than five courses per term, many on unit systems like the one UR is adopting, according to the university's website. The survey found that no institutions have moved back from four courses per term to five.

There has been a lot of controversy on campus about the new system. Some students said they didn't understand why the university was making the change, and many students said they simply weren't informed about it.

"I only found out through the grapevine," Kelly Larsen, a freshman science major, said, "and even then, the people that told me didn't know much about it. I know they had meetings regarding the switch to units, and specific meetings for science majors, but I was unable to attend these and therefore I still do not really know anything about units."

Emily Dowd, a freshman, said she didn't think the change was explained very well. "Everyone was complaining," she said.

Much of the resistance to the change might have stemmed from the fact that students were simply informed, one student said.

Faculty and students have a wide range of views about the unit system. Some are opposed to the change, and others support it fully.

Dr. Joseph Essid, director of the campus writing center, said he strongly supported the unit system. "We assign a lot of work at Richmond," he said. "The new system encourages more focus by students.

"Our students try to do too much, in particular pursue double and triple majors. I think anything making this harder, and encouraging minors and intellectual exploration for its own sake is good." Essid also teaches English and Core. He is among the faculty who helped make the decision about the change.

"I like that under the unit system, a lot of majors and minors got smaller," said one student who is considering a double minor.

The intent of the change may be to keep students from double-majoring or triple-majoring, but students who really want multiple majors and minors will still find a way to do it, one freshman said. Many students still plan to double-major, and they are concerned about graduating on time.

Emily Dowd plans on double-majoring in English and psychology with a Spanish minor. She said she was concerned she might face limitations with studying abroad, because she would have to find somewhere that offered classes that counted toward her major, or not study abroad at all, so she could graduate on time.

Another student who is considering double-majoring said: "Now not only is it harder to double major, but it is hard for people like me who are still undecided to figure out what they want to do. Once I do figure it out, it might be too late to complete everything under the unit system."

Other students still do not understand the reasons behind the change.

"Why fix something that isn't broken?" Elizabeth Hyman, a freshman, asked. "My major gripe with the unit system is that it changes my fine arts requirement. Under the unit system, chorus is now a pass/fail class, which means that we all have to take an extra semester of it to get credit. And I know a lot of science students are upset because it will affect their labs."

Some students are questioning the motives behind the credits-to-units change. "It seems like we are getting the unit system to be more like Ivy League schools," one student, a freshman, said. "That is not a good enough reason to switch everything up."

"It seems unfair that labs do not factor in at all to the unit system," Larsen said, "because labs tend to be the reason I can’t take some classes because of conflicting times." Larsen said she was finding it hard to fit in her COMII requirement, which is two units, on top of two labs.

Not everyone disagrees with the change. "I don't think it's a big deal," Ashley Miles, a freshman, said. Miles said she didn't know why people were upset, because the unit system would make registration easier for everyone and make all classes weighted the same.

Next semester, students will experience firsthand the differences resulting from the change.

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