Matt Carberry (kingpin248) wrote,
Matt Carberry

Gregorian, Julian, about academic?

Now that Hofstra has officially and finally reached its own spring break, I'm ready to dish that hot academic calendar talk I promised two weeks ago. And what a time to do so - because Cornell is contemplating some changes to theirs. I'll hit those first before moving on to Hofstra.

The mental health issues that have come to the forefront at Cornell over the last year have prompted the consideration of adding a break at Presidents' Day, most likely to be two days (making it a four-day weekend, as Hofstra presently has). The key objection seems to be the possibility of shortening Senior Week, the nine days between the end of finals and Commencement on Memorial Day weekend. The incoming president of the Student Assembly is opposed to that, saying that period is when "a lot of students de-stress...[this change] allows no time for seniors between classes' end and graduation." With all due respect to Ms. Raps and her rapping ability (or lack thereof), she's on the wrong side of this one.

Let's take the most straightforward option for inserting a mid-February break, that of moving everything two days to the right (but keeping spring break as a single calendar week). That would end classes on a Tuesday, keep the study period the same length, and have finals the following Monday through Friday, plus the Monday and Tuesday after that. That still leaves five days between the end of finals and the "big day"'re seriously telling me that's not enough time? Let's also bear in mind that these are second-semester seniors we're talking about, many of whom can and do arrange their schedules to minimize workload and stress in their terminal term. Even granting due deference to those seniors who are still under stress, it still would make sense to insert the break. Spock famously said that the needs of the many outweigh those of the few, or the one. If the insertion of a President's Day break would benefit all Cornell students, it seems to me that trumps the interests of one-fourth of the student body (who are on their way out anyway). This change might also prompt a complaint about the last day of classes not being a Friday, to which I respond there is no commandment, law, or University regulation compelling Slope Day to fall at the end of the week. One final throwaway thought on this - I know that Hofstra is nowhere near as stressful a place as Cornell, but down here in Hempstead, we make do just fine without any senior week, thank you very much.

Cornell could also move the start of the semester earlier to get the February break in there. The faculty's guidelines for this reform state that any addition on the front end would shorten the winter intersession. I think in practice, that's probably true. In theory, the re-opening of the dorms could be kept where it is, while the start of classes could be moved up. I don't think that would be such a bad idea - but it would have the effect of shortening rush week, which would be loudly and strenuously objected to by an influential minority of the students. I kind of want to see Cornell try that, if only because of the apparent commitment to reducing Greek influence that was shown eight months ago.

Whatever the good people on the East Hill decide to do, I pray they don't take their lead from Hofstra's experience last fall. In October, I got an e-mail from a high-ranking member of the faculty, inviting me to participate in a survey regarding reforms to our own academic calendar. Hofstra proposed a comprehensive set of changes. For the fall, the recommendation was to eliminate the three days of class before Labor Day, making them up by eliminating the off day before Thanksgiving and the roving breaks throughout September, which happen to coincide with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I dissented from this plan, noting that it would make permanent a giant problem we had in Fall 2010 - a period of over ten weeks without a break (between the early Rosh Hashanah and Thanksgiving). I counter-proposed maintaining the off day before Thanksgiving, and fixing a four-day weekend at Columbus Day, much as Cornell does, while maintaining the start of the fall semester on the Wednesday before Labor Day. As for the spring, the primary reform was to standardize the location of spring break in mid to late March, as opposed to the current practice of pegging it to Easter - or more likely, pegging it to the spring breaks of the local public schools. I endorsed that change.

Well, Hofstra managed to come to about the worst possible conclusion. They did move the start of the fall semester to after Labor Day. But they also kept the breaks in September. How did they make up the three days, you ask? One of them was made up by shifting the end of the semester one day to the right. Fall finals now end on Monday, but that day is reserved for make-up or special exams. The finals that had previously been taken on Friday will now be held on Saturday (scroll halfway down). Another day was squeezed out by removing a snow/study day, thus shortening the study period from four days to three. And the third day was achieved by converting the day before Thanksgiving from an off day to a full day. It doesn't affect me, since I don't travel and expect to have no Wednesday classes next fall, but a good number of students who travel for the holiday are adversely affected by this one. What about the spring? They basically left it as is.

I just think that Hofstra did a bad job all around on this one. I can understand a desire to align our breaks with those of the public schools, if indeed that was Hofstra's intent. But I'd venture to say that Hofstra students aren't so sensitive to that as to lengthy periods of class interrupted only by weekends. And I don't understand at all the need to eliminate the class days before Labor Day - they seemed to me to be working just fine. In fact, I'd even be in favor of making that a full week, so as to allow the Columbus Day respite I mentioned earlier. All in all, these changes don't affect me very much, but they do affect a great number of current Hofstronians, and many more yet to arrive on campus. For a university whose undergraduate enrollment has declined for seven years running (and is projected to do so again), altering the calendar like this doesn't seem to be in Hofstra's best interest.

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