A History of W&L's Spring Term

The Spring Term at Washington and Lee was created in 1970. This radical concept in education came about partly as a result of the ferment in educational thinking in the late 1960's, as many new ideas were experimentally put forth at American universities. W&L previously had a semester system of two 15-week terms, and the new six-week spring term was designed to foster more experimental courses in the six-week term, to enhance student/faculty interaction, and to increase the intellectual rigor of the campus. Credits were disconnected from classroom hours, and faculty were encouraged to innovate: single-issue topics, different forms of instruction, off-campus study, and other creative concepts were encouraged. It was as a result of this innovation that Washington and Lee's famous Spring Term Abroad courses were developed. Many faculty explored new topics frequently, in classes that were fresh and new each year. Team-teaching and interdisciplinary courses were encouraged.

Over the ensuing decades, the administration and faculty have constantly discussed how to improve the spring term, leading to a series of very reflective and helpful discussions in the past decade in particular: the Spring Term Renewal Committee, called by President Elrod and chaired by Professor Art Goldsmith, in 2001-2002; the consideration of alternative calendars under President Burish, and the faculty's ultimate vote to retain the spring term, in 2004; and finally President Ruscio's call for an Academic Life Renewal in the fall of 2007, which included a reaffirmation and revitalization of the spring term as a four-week, intensive, transformative educational experience for both students and faculty.
The Spring Term Mission Statement:

The Spring Term offers innovative, intensive, and challenging student learning experiences in ways that differ markedly from the experiences of our long terms.

Students and faculty benefit from a focused learning environment that allows them to devote undivided attention to the subject matter of one course.

Through a range of pedagogies including experimental, interdisciplinary, international, and interactive approaches, the Spring Term accomplishes the University's stated mission of developing students' critical thinking and promoting their growth in honor, integrity, and civility.

The Spring Term Learning Contexts:

Through their cumulative 4-year experiences of the Spring Term, students will have the opportunity to . . .

1. Work closely with faculty in a single course, both inside and outside the classroom, in intensive learning experiences, thereby engaging in critical research or creative work under faculty direction.
2. Study subjects in depth and detail, generally emphasizing focused, often interdisciplinary study and/or particular enrichment of understanding rather than breadth of coverage.
3. Work collaboratively with a diverse group of fellow students (and possibly larger communities) in ways that generate greater respect towards one's fellow citizens. Such work may often involve service learning projects to further one's sense of commitment to others.
4. Produce papers, projects, reports, journals, creative works, or performances that exemplify the possibilities of the class's particular pedagogies.