The Gray Area: Learning to accept the imperfections of CentreTerm


By GRAY WHITSETT – COLUMNIST

I have only lived through two CentreTerms in my time at Centre College — one focused on religion and politics, the other spent in India.
These two courses were arguably the most influential classes I’ve taken in my student career and experiences I value with love and pride.
I hesitate to say this is a universal sentiment — I know many people who were less than satisfied with their first-year course assignment. But at least in my social sphere, the scales of approval were relatively balanced. And upon gaining the ability to choose with improved variety and odds of enrollment their second-year course, nearly everyone I asked was delighted with their CentreTerm decision.
All of this is rather anecdotal, but I share it to admit I haven’t done a thorough analysis of campus. I haven’t administered any kind of opinion poll or done extensive research. Therefore, in no way do I pretend to speak for my peers when I say that any attempt to eliminate Centreterm as a fixture of our academic landscape would be an action I firmly resent.
After both my CentreTerms, the motion to eliminate CentreTerm has gained support on campus amongst the faculty and staff, and even some students. I know from older students and professors that this is not a new conversation. To some degree, I understand the sentiment.
That three week chunk skews many schedules, desynchronizing Centre’s calendar with other institutions. It causes an awkward transition back into regular schooling, coming off a long break, thrown into an intense course, and then back on break, only to have a full semester ahead of you. It creates a strange grading issue, working in a single percentage into a student’s overall GPA.
Do we call CentreTerm a semester? Is it inherently unequal to the long semesters? It seems it must be labeled as such, but often policy doesn’t reflect this.
On top of all this, anyone who has tried to effectively schedule meetings, whether as a faculty member or a student leader, knows it’s a crapshoot. The tumbleweeds of empty Campus Center study rooms can be seen mid-way through January. It plays havoc on the Greek recruitment process, conflicts with some Fall and Spring semester abroad programs, and poses issues with athletic scheduling.
And to top it all off, every year a portion of the student body flies into a fit of drunken rage, vandalizing and destroying campus property, all the while determined to get at least tipsy every night of the 21 days.
CentreTerm is not void of problems. Frustration with it is not only valid, it’s healthy. It’s a good thing. We need to be thinking about how to approach these issues because they exist — and in some cases are quite debilitating. But pulling the plug on the entire system is not a solution.
Not only is it the easy way out, but it would be doing a disservice to every student and faculty member on campus. We emphasize this over and over, but CentreTerm really is a chance to do something drastically different with your education.
It’s a chance to experiment with an intellectual interest that is just too risky to pursue for an entire semester. And not only that, it’s an opportunity for professors to seriously dig their teeth into something they genuinely enjoy.
Unencumbered with required gen. eds., instructors can exhibit a true passion to their students. For me, it was this exhibition that sparked a continued interest in the study of

religion. But regardless of how this benefits the student, this time for the professors is deserved.
They have a Ph.D. I understand that teaching introductory calculus has to be a drain on the mind after so many years. It doesn’t make it unimportant, but it does necessitate some type of academic refinement.
CentreTerm also is absolutely vital for our commitment to Global Citizenship. CentreTerm allows students with aspirations of leadership on campus to partake in the fantastic study abroad programs Centre offers. The President of SAC can’t enjoy Strasbourg for three months, but he can manage Africa for three weeks.
If we eliminate CentreTerm, we create an unfair power dynamic — choose between investing yourself on campus and investing yourself abroad. Just as I don’t believe Greek life at Centre mandates a mutually exclusive college experience, I view it as a huge mistake to require students to choose travel over leadership.
At some institutions it is necessary. We have a tool to circumvent that reality. Don’t dismantle it.
Lastly, it’s just a great opportunity to experience campus (if you’re here) in a different way. CentreTerm keeps us busy, but the dramatically altered layout of our day to day offers the chance to form new habits, interact with different people, and really engage with the material.
My CentreTerms kept me plenty busy, but I know there are some that experienced a more relaxed schedule. That’s okay. Just because someone isn’t scheduling every hour of their day just to stay caught up doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong. In fact, at its core lays the fundamental principle of a genuine liberal arts education — the ability and capacity to reflect on, participate in, and be fulfilled by what we’re doing with our lives.
CentreTerm is an incredibly useful and unique component of a Centre education. It is imperfect, but endearing; awkward, but awesome. It’s an intriguing model to which other institutions compare themselves, a mark of prestige of which we should have nothing but pride. Centre has always impressed me with its willingness to do that which other schools won’t and still succeed, in fact completely outrank. CentreTerm is a manifestation of this philosophy, and to remove it from the curriculum is to damage our college’s rich character.


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