What a difference three days make

If it’s Thursday, this must be (a) the Penn Reading Project, (b) a meeting with my advisor, (c) a field trip to the Reading Terminal Market, (d) time for a little bonding with my fellow freshmen.

A schedule change approved for New Student Orientation 2000 by the Council of Undergraduate Deans Feb. 17 means that whatever else happens on Thursday of orientation week, it won’t be (e) all of the above.

The Class of 2004 will have seven days — Aug. 31 through Sept. 6 — to become adjusted to campus life, a full three days more than their predecessors had.

A pair of committees organized by Deputy Provost Peter Conn will decide how to use that time over the spring. But the overall purpose of the expansion is clear: to give the students more exposure to Penn’s intellectual life and the city of Philadelphia.

“It is imperative that we provide our students with the richest and most stimulating introduction to Penn,” Conn said.

The longer orientation is something Penn students have desired for years. Surveys conducted by the Undergraduate Assembly and the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education showed that most Penn students felt orientation was too rushed. And research done by the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life showed that Penn’s orientation was the shortest of its peers. This research led the UA and SCUE to propose an extended orientation last fall in a proposal whose basic premises the deans agreed with.

David Burd (C/W’02), chair of the UA’s student life committee and co-author of the proposal, said, “Lindsay [Matthews (W’01), a SCUE member and the proposal’s other co-author] and I met when we were representing our respective organizations on the University-wide committee on new student orientation, and we found out that we both didn’t enjoy our experiences” during orientation.

While the students’ proposal stressed academic resources and community (both on and off campus), the deans’ resolution called for richer intellectual content. It will be up to the committees to provide both.

“Our task is to ensure that the programs we offer propel our students into the academic, educational and cultural life of the University,” Conn said.

The students who pushed for the change are doubly thrilled, for in adddition to a longer orientation, half of it will take place before Labor Day. “We were very excited not only to get the seven days, we were surprised to get the days as we wanted,” Burd said.

SCUE and the UA have advocated an earlier start for the Fall term in order to free up time on the academic calendar for additional reading days or a “shopping period” for classes at the start of the term.

Originally published on March 2, 2000