Why winter?


For the RECORD

Winters in Boston are miserable by virtue of the weather alone. Add an excruciating winter term to that, and you have a veritable season in hell.

Winter term does have its merits. It offers students a time for more focused study uninterrupted by other coursework. For that reason, lengthy, hands-on courses like Negotiation and Trial Advocacy Workshop are optimal for winter term’s limited but intensive period of study. The benefits are also evident to students who wish to pursue outside research, complete writing projects or study abroad. Winter term also gives HLS a chance to bring in highly coveted professors who would be unwilling to commit an entire semester to the school.

But the majority of HLS students — who have neither the interest nor the option to pursue such interests, winter terms represents little more than an yet another assault by the administration on the quality of student life.

Some students are undoubtedly pleased by the elimination of the mid-January break that followed winter term prior to this year. After all, it gives some more time to earn money at firms during the summer. What it creates, though, is an intensely stressful January, in which a student must return immediately after New Year’s, complete an entire semester’s worth of coursework in a class, then begin their full spring semester with nothing but a weekend in between. Not only does this arrangement create unnecessary stress, but it also insures that HLS is on an entirely different schedule than almost every other school in the country — making cross-registration and other types of coordination difficult. Furthermore, traditionally structured, reading-intensive classes are not a good fit for the winter term format, yet they remain the default option for many students.

There are three principal options available to rectify the problem. If feasible, making winter term optional would preserve many of its positive aspects while allowing students who wanted to pursue other interests (or their leisure) the chance to do so. Since this could present logistical problems, HLS could make winter term mandatory for 2Ls but optional for 3Ls, who do not benefit from the extra work weeks created by eliminating the post-winter term break.

Another possibility would be eliminating winter term and scheduling 1L exams before the holidays. Most 1Ls dislike the current system, and giving them a longer winter break might improve interviewing opportunities for them. Currently, the HLS 2L/3L schedule matches that of all students at Stanford, while the 1L schedule mimics that of Yale. It seems that HLS would be wise to choose one way or the other, rather than confusing students by forcing them to acclimate themselves to one way and then the other.

The third option, which seems least palatable, would be to reinstate the break after winter term, which would neither quell the complaints of 1Ls or adequately address the deficiencies in the winter term system.

Because winter term is an asset to some students, but not all, making it optional would likely satisfy the most students. It would not satisfy 1Ls hoping to have exams before break, but 1Ls complaining about exams might find themselves enjoying the extra winter opportunities as 2Ls. For the rest of us, we should not only be trusted to accrue the necessary number of credits without the assistance of an extra term, but we should also be trusted to be the best stewards of our limited free time.

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