J-Term at Smith

January 12, 2010

This is the first week of January term, J-Term or Interterm (take your pick of names!) at Smith.  We thought it would be interesting for you to know about the early history of this Smith event.

In the early 1960s with discussions about the ‘New College’ (now known as Hampshire) in process , alternative ways of learning and sparking the curiosity and intellectual interests of Smith’s students were taken up by the faculty.  By late 1961 the idea of the Interim Session took form.  The first session took place for 3 weeks in January 1962.  It was described in its official brochure as,

“designed to afford all students an opportunity for independent study and discussion, to permit Juniors and Seniors to investigate special topics in the field of their major, and to assist Freshman and Sophomores in determining the field of their major interest.”

The session also had two subject themes in which any student could engage in learning  and discussion: “China–An Area Study” and “Radioactivity.”  Outside lecturers were brought in; bibliographies were created; campus departments (such as the Art Museum) created collaborative events to parallel these topics.  The subject for the 2nd session in 1963 was “the Impact of Cybernetics on Society.”

The offerings of January term changed over time to reflect the interests of the students and faculty members.  The less formal classes with titles such as  “Non-sexist Marriage, Child raising and Work”, “Mixology”, “FORTRAN programming”, “Learning from Nature” began to appear in the mid-1970s.  Interestingly enough, some courses taught in the 1970s continue to appear in the more recent Interterm catalogs.

Is Interterm/J-Term/January Term a success?  As with all academic endeavors, the College continues to assess whether or not the program remains successful.  The offerings have been pared down over recent years.  The number of students participating in the classes seems to have declined.  The scheduling of J-term comes at a price at the end of the spring semester, by pushing back graduation dates.  Is it worth it?  Students and participating faculty/staff should let the Administration know its value to them.

For more information about Interim Session/J-Term/January Term, please see records of the Office of the Registrar in the College Archives, as well as files relating to the Committee on Educational Policy.