Originally, the university operated in two five-month sessions. The winter term opened in October and ran until the third Wednesday in March; the summer term began in April and closed on commencement day—the second Wednesday in September. When the first catalog was published in 1837–38, there were two sessions. Early in the twentieth century, the institution changed to three terms.
In 1909 UT changed from three terms to two (semesters) effective for the 1910 scholastic year (September 15–February 4 and February 7–June 9) with a three-month vacation in the summer. In summer 1919, as part of its war accommodation for World War I, the two semesters were divided into three sessions, and the three-month summer vacation was replaced with a fourth term to allow acquiring a college degree in three, rather than four, years for the period of the war. In 1926 the faculty voted (24 to 22) to switch permanently from the semester to the quarter system.
A move to the semester system was considered in 1958, and a committee appointed by President Brehm studied the issue, but the Faculty Senate retained the quarter system by a vote in April 1959. (In 1958 Memphis State and Vanderbilt were the only two Tennessee institutions operating on a semester system.) In 1976 the Faculty Senate appointed a study committee to review the academic calendar. The committee recommended that a quarter system, consisting of five hundred minutes of class time per credit hour, be retained. The Faculty Senate voted 29 to 20 on May 17, 1976, to retain the quarter system.
On November 28, 1983, the UT Faculty Senate approved a recommendation to change from a quarter to a semester calendar by a vote of 46 to 39, with four ex officio administrative members of the Senate voting for the change. At the fall 1984 meeting of the board of trustees, President Boling appointed five trustees to study changing UT Knoxville and UT Martin from a quarter to a semester system in anticipation of recommendations from the campuses to do so. The board committee recommended the changeover in March 1985. On April 27, 1985, the board approved the switch to two semesters of 15 weeks each, the first to begin in mid-August and end in mid-December, and the second to begin in early- or mid-January and end near the middle of May, with a one-week spring break in March or early April. The change was effected in 1988.
(The College of Law decided to change to the semester system in 1979, but because of the controversy surrounding the change, the board of trustees gave approval but made it effective for fall 1981.)