Debate over the merits of semester versus quarter systems at Utah colleges and universities has been pitting faculty against administrators and regents for years. Now another group has joined the fray - on the side of semesters.

In 1993, Utah State University President George Emert was threatened with a vote of "no confidence" by the faculty if he moved to change that institution from its present quarter calendar. But the state's Postsecondary Education Strategic Planning team is proposing that all Utah colleges and universities make the change.The recommendation remains just that for now, since the switch is not a funding priority, but the idea is not likely to go away and should be studied objectively by lawmakers and regents.

Presently, Utah Valley State College is the only state-supported institution on a semester system; LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University also operates on semesters.

The two-semester calendar covers the same time period as three quarters. Proponents argue that changing to semesters would put Utah in step with most of the rest of the nation and make transferring from one institution to another easier; it would reduce the processes of registration, grading, admissions, etc. by a third.

More importantly from the student's viewpoint, the semester system allows greater depth of study into each subject and fewer expensive textbooks.

Faculty at both USU and other state-supported schools have fought the change, however, with USU faculty nearly up in arms over it when first proposed by Emert. They say it would reduce the variety of courses students could be exposed to and would be expensive and laborious since the entire curriculum and every course syllabus and lesson plan would have to be altered.

Faculty also argue it would cut into time they have available for research.

The greatest concern throughout the continuing debate should be what's best for the student and then what's best for the individual institution. Semesters appear to make sense for the larger Wasatch Front schools, but smaller two-year colleges like Snow and Dixie see some benefits for their students in the quarter calendar.

Students at smaller schools often come from rural areas of the state where high school curricula are limited. They need exposure to a wider variety of subjects just to catch up with their more urban neighbors before they can decide on career and education options.

The smaller schools can't afford to offer some courses every quarter but make them available once a year. The quarter system allows students a better opportunity to take those classes.

An objective analysis of the pros and cons of the two systems should be undertaken, with input accepted from all sides - dispassionate input if possible. Utah students deserve that kind of approach.