Guidelines for Course Proposals

Thinking of proposing a course for Jan 2021? Read this first! 


Guidelines for January Term Courses


For ease of planning, the template for on-campus proposals can be found HERE.

Proposals must come through the official online form.


Instruction Time

Because January Term courses receive 3.5 units of transfer credit, at least 10 hours per week of formal classroom instruction is an absolute requirement. (Please factor in at least double time for laboratory, fieldwork and studio activity.) The ten hours of formal classroom instruction does not count preparation, writing essays, viewing films, etc. The last point deserves repeating: viewing of films, like reading in preparation for class, should not count as class time.

Normally, January Term classes meet four days per week, though that is not an absolute requirement. Justified exceptions to this schedule may be approved by the January Term Committee. Classes meeting five days per week may be held in any time slot, though the late afternoon time for those classes is often unpopular with students.

The course proposal form includes a section on time preference and room needs. If space allows, more extended time slots for studio or lab courses may be arranged by calling the Jan Term Office and the Registrar. Media rooms and computer labs are always in great demand, and we try to assign them on a first-come basis provided you need ALL the technology in the room. The Registrar's Office does their best to match instructors with the best possible room for their class, but you should plan on being as flexible as possible.


Upper & Lower Divisions

For a class to be listed as upper-division it must meet particular standards developed by the Curriculum Committee. Upper-division courses are characterized by at least two of the following criteria:

  • Require college-level prerequisite classes.
  • Focus on a particular topic or require an in-depth study of a subject rather than a survey or introduction.
  • Require that the necessary introductory study has been completed.
  • Demand a readiness and maturity characteristic of students with successful prior college experience, with skills in reading, writing, and discussion of demonstrable rigor and complexity.
  • Include course objectives that entail high levels of cognitive, affective or psychomotor achievement.

Each instructor offering a lower-division course is asked to reserve at least five places for first-year students. First-Year only classes are welcome.


No Fulfillment of Major Requirements

Jan Term courses are intended to be non-departmental and may not be used to satisfy other requirements. A course may be given a departmental designation only by special approval of the Jan Term Committee for specific and extraordinary reasons. Hence, unless a course is approved to have such a departmental designation, a course's title should not be identical to or interpretable as being the same as one offered for departmental credit in a regular semester.

  • Course descriptions must be complete and accurate.
  • Prior January Term course student evaluations are considered in the review of proposals.
  • Travel class proposals must meet the specified criteria set by the Committee. Travel courses must be designed for early registration, usually the last week of September.
  • All courses should require a formal writing assignment and either a final project/exam or final essay. 
  • Adjunct and part-time faculty members: Please be aware that the January Term Committee makes recommendations about individual courses, but that the authorization for any part-time person to teach must come from your respective Dean. Our invitation for you to submit course proposals, therefore, does not constitute any sort of contractual authorization. If you wish to clarify your status further before submitting a proposal, please contact your Dean's office, but be advised that decisions on accepting requests by part-time faculty to teach in January often cannot be made for some months.


Guidelines for SMC Staff Proposers

Staff members are required to obtain written approval from their supervisor before submitting any proposal to the Jan Term Office. This written approval must include details on whether teaching is part of the staff person's job description. This written approval must be sent directly to the Jan Term Director upon submission of a course proposal.

The following guidelines are found in the SMC Staff Handbook:

2.11.2 Teaching by Staff

Positions Requiring Teaching

Ordinarily, those exempt and non-exempt staff positions that require teaching of regular or specialized courses are considered to be compensated as part of their base salary. In these cases, it is expected that all teaching duties, including advising, class preparation, instruction, grading and student/administration interactions, will take place during the normal workday.

All timekeeping by non-exempt staff members should always accurately reflect all working time, including staff administrative work and teaching duties time. Any work done beyond 7.5/8 hours in a workday or 37.5/40 hours in a workweek will be paid at the applicable overtime rate of the individual based on the staff position. Attendance reports for teaching must be submitted on the 5th and 20th of each month.

Staff members teaching within their staff position must seek prior supervisor and Human Resources approval before working outside their normal workday, consistent with standard College policies.


Teaching Outside the Staff Position

Staff who are qualified and have been asked to teach a course where some or all of the teaching duties occur outside the staff member’s normal work duties may only do so with the advance approval of their supervisor and Human Resources. In these situations, the teaching staff member will be appointed and compensated as a Lecturer through a separate agreement. The Lecturer status shall not change the at-will status of the staff position.

It is the policy of the College that staff devote their full effort to their primary staff function. For those staff teaching outside of their staff positions, all teaching duties, including advising, class preparation, instruction, grading and student/administration interactions, will take place outside the normal workday, or consistent with a flexible work schedule that is designed to prevent the interference of the separate duties of the regular staff position and the teaching appointment. Supervisors in consultation with Human Resources have the responsibility of determining how and whether the teaching of courses will impact the department and its productivity, and thereafter determining whether such an arrangement may be approved or can be maintained. 


Team-Teaching Protocol

Faculty submitting a Jan Term team-taught course proposal should first consult the Team-Teaching Protocol (section 2.2.4 of the Faculty Handbook) in order to ensure that their proposal meets the administrative criteria for team-teaching. 

If a team-taught course is approved by the JT Committee, the faculty members need to draft an alignment statement that shows the need for a second faculty member according to section 2.2.4 of the Faculty Handbook. These alignment statements are gathered together at the end of the Jan Term Committee's selection process and forwarded to the Vice Provost. The Vice Provost sends their recommendation to the Provost, who makes the final decision. 

For Travel proposals: Jan Term Travel courses must either be team-taught or taught by a single faculty member who is accompanied by a co-traveler. Please review the Co-Traveler Policy and Position Description here before submitting your travel course proposal. 


Course Fees

The College does not permit faculty to collect lab fees "directly " from students on their own -- fees must be billed to the students and collected by the business office. You must charge a course fee if you plan to be reimbursed for expenses such as photocopying, guest speakers, transportation, readers, rentals, entrance fees, office supplies, etc. $5.00 per student is the minimum fee. 

It may be early in your planning for you to have an exact figure in mind to list in the catalog, but please estimate as closely as you can. You will have a chance to confirm or revise that fee by the end of July. Also, please list examples of how you will use the money collected, e.g., photocopying, guest speakers, field trips, video rentals. You must save your receipts to be reimbursed, so please keep track of your expenses.

The January Term office does not reimburse faculty for the purchase of books or DVDs used in their class. If you need additional materials (books or DVDs) purchased for the library to support your January Term class, please let your subject area librarian know. They need adequate time to order, catalog and process books and media before the session begins.  If you are not sure who your librarian is, check out the SMC library website.


Travel Course Selection Criteria 

The January Term Committee's goal is to offer a diverse array of travel courses that students will find enlightening, challenging, and enjoyable. The Special Guidelines that follow will help you to develop and market a travel course that will represent a unique educational opportunity for your students and yourself.


Safety:  The Threshold Criterion

First and foremost, Saint Mary's College has an unwavering commitment to student safety, a commitment that must be explicitly addressed in your course proposal. You must consider certain questions carefully at the time of your proposal, especially for international travel, questions such as: Is the destination country politically and socially stable? Does the destination culture have values greatly at variance with those that the students are used to? If so, how do you plan to ensure that students are not taken entirely by surprise with behavioral and social standards different from their own? For the point of view of safety, what measures will you take to ensure that students are supervised? What measures will you take to ensure that you are available to them at any time they should need your help? If you have taught a travel class before and safety questions were raised, have you dealt with them? Your proposal must address these concerns to the January Term Committee's satisfaction before any judgments can be made about your proposal's fulfillment of the Special Guidelines. However wonderful your course proposal sounds, without explicit consideration of safety issues the proposal will not be considered. 


Seven Key Criteria:

For proposals that meet the January Term Committee’s concerns about security, the following criteria will be considered in the approval of travel courses:

1)   Is this course academically rigorous with clearly thought out and assessable learning outcomes? 

The January Term Committee seeks to offer students a rigorous, intense, and focused academic experience. Consequently, travel courses must have a clear academic focus, with clearly articulated learning outcomes. Important as they are, course descriptions designed for our online course catalog do not supply enough information for the January Term Committee to assess a proposal’s academic quality or to determine if its means of assessment are sufficiently rigorous. Hence, a portfolio of information documenting your methods of evaluating student work must be submitted. There is an upload field for this in the course proposal form. This portfolio should include detailed descriptions of the means used to assess student achievement on coursework, including formal written work, essay prompts, assignments, and exams.  For veteran travel instructors, the portfolio should also include past syllabi and itineraries. (Please do not upload actual student work.)

This request is consistent with the Faculty Handbook provision 3.1.3 which states that copies of the final examination be given to the chairperson for department files.  To assess how well the learning goals are being achieved, in some cases the committee may request a random sampling of student projects.


2)  Has this course been offered before? 

Courses that are being repeated, especially repeated often, must be held to a high standard.  Questions about a course’s academic rigor and its organization are particularly significant, especially when they are persistent.  The committee also looks to see that the instructors are addressing criticisms seriously.  Instructors of a course that is being repeated are asked to describe areas in which their courses are growing and developing. Since courses being repeated often can possibly block the development of new and stronger classes, instructors are also asked to address how their courses continue to serve as part of their own faculty development, research interests, and growing expertise.


3)  How much will this course cost?   

The January Term seeks to provide opportunities for travel courses to as wide a range of students as possible, including students with limited financial means. Consequently, courses that are less expensive (or more cost-effective for the period of travel) may be given priority over courses that are more expensive.


4)  Could this topic be studied just as well in Moraga?

The proposed course should have a clear academic reason for the travel component to a particular destination. Courses that could be taught equally effectively in an on-campus setting will not receive preference. Thus, an appropriate course will provide a compelling reason for why it must be taught in the selected location. Be sure to include your justification for location in your learning outcomes.


5)  Do the logistics of this proposal seem well-thought-out? Preference will be given to courses that evidence the best advance logistical planning, including an evidence-based cost estimate for travel, transportation, and lodging, a clear itinerary, etc. This may be somewhat difficult to provide when a new course is proposed. Please address this issue regardless. In cases where the proposed course has been offered before, please provide detail regarding logistical planning, cost estimates, itinerary, etc.


6)  Will the course appeal to students (i.e., will it enroll adequately)?   

Along with the above criteria, especially academic quality, the January Term Committee will attempt to evaluate the overall appeal of the course to a broad range of students, keeping in mind that academic rigor may not be sacrificed in pursuit of appealing to students.  A breadth and balance of course offerings are needed as we try to avoid too many courses of the same genre, theme, or to the same region.  If the course does not enroll adequately (defined as the minimum number of students needed to operate the course at the advertised course fee), it will be canceled. 


7)  Is the course open to a wide range of students? 

Preference will be given to course proposals that are open and available to a wide range of student interests. January Term courses are meant to provide opportunities for students to explore subject matter outside their declared majors and minors. While we recognize the importance of prerequisites, the committee discourages proposals that appear to be restricted to students of a particular school, program, or department.



1) Does this course involve ranked faculty? 

If all the above criteria and concerns are met to the committee’s satisfaction, preference is given to classes that involve ranked faculty (including in the role of co-instructors and second instructors).  Why?  While supplying students with the best panoply of travel courses is a natural priority for us, one of the distinguishing features of January Term is that it offers students and faculty alike the opportunity to pursue what captures their imaginations.  Furthermore, the experience gained from teaching in January Term contributes to what faculty members bring to their regular semester classes.  Hence, January Term’s significant role and responsibility in faculty and curricular development should not be overlooked.


2) Does this course involve faculty experienced with Jan Term?

If all the above criteria and concerns are met to the committee’s satisfaction, preference will be given to courses whose faculty have taught an on-campus Jan Term class or have been mentored to teach a travel class.


3) Does this course further the mission of the College? 

If all the above criteria and concerns are met to the committee’s satisfaction, preference will be given to courses that show a focused commitment to the Catholic, Liberal Arts, and Lasallian mission of the College.

(Adopted 3/2002, revised 5/2009 revised 3/2011, revised 10/2014)



Travel Risk Assessment Committee (TRAC)

The Travel Risk Assessment Committee (TRAC) assesses and advises all Jan Term Travel courses in collaboration with the Jan Term faculty and staff. TRAC review is an integral component of SMC's due-diligence measures regarding travel health and safety.

TRAC requires that all Jan Term Travel course proposers submit two interrelated Risk Assessment Documents as part of their proposal.

Please access these documents here. (Note: to open the zip file, simply double-click on its icon on your desktop and open the file folder that will then appear next to it).

TRAC was established to review any and all domestic and international travel conducted by faculty, staff, athletic teams, courses, and co-curricular groups to assess and identify potential risks. The committee provides feedback to instructors, coaches, and staff regarding potential risk as well as recommendations for addressing those risks to reflect the college’s due diligence and commitment to ensure safe travel experiences for its community members.

The committee does not “approve” travel activities, but instead makes recommendations to SMC administration when a potential risk is evident. Faculty and staff are then advised of appropriate steps to take to mitigate risk. TRAC works directly with the Center for International Programs (C.I.P.) and the Jan Term Committee to review international travel courses, learning opportunities, and other global activities. Questionnaires designed to identify risk factors are included in Jan-term course proposals. This information is the basis of TRAC review and assessment. 

With the information provided and obtained from travel questionnaires and applications, TRAC maintains a robust, automated database that can be used to immediately and efficiently monitor and contact SMC travelers according to their itinerary in case of emergency. In rare and extreme cases, TRAC considers extraordinary circumstances such as political unrest, terrorist activity or health conditions that pose potentially serious harm by consulting appropriate sources such as the U.S. State Department, professional organizations and various news media to make informed decisions.