On Wednesday, the Faculty Senate will consider changes to the academic calendar that would add vacations in the middle of the semester to break up long periods of classes and improve mental health. This benefit would come at the expense of one of Cornell’s most revered traditions: Senior Week. The changes that are being considered will change the culture of the campus and must be debated and vetted extensively with students. The Faculty Senate must wait for formalized student input before making a decision.
Senior Week is the seven day period immediately following the end of finals, leading up to Commencement. The calendar committee is proposing to shorten Senior Week from nine days to three and shorten exam week from 13 days to eight. These changes will create a two day break during President’s Week and add two extra days to spring break. By giving students time to relax in the middle of the winter and prelim season, the committee hopes that students will receive serious mental health benefits.
While there are benefits that come with this new calendar, they come at the expense of Senior Week. These seven days are important for seniors, as they bid farewell to their friends and reminisce about their time on the Hill. This week frames their time at Cornell, giving seniors a positive experience that they will remember into their years as alumni. Senior Week is part of the Cornell culture and a tradition that is widely known and remembered by members of the outgoing class. In order to properly weigh the extent of the cost that this change would have, more formalized input is necessary.
So far, student input on the calendar has been limited. It is concerning is that the chair of the Calendar Committee said in March that it would only make “informal” efforts to consult with non-committee members. The deliberations should rely on more than just the input from the two undergraduate students that sit on the Calendar Committee. A simple measure to formally gauge the opinions of students would be to send out a survey. However, even this basic measure has not been taken. More time for deliberation and compromise would help to ensure that everyone is best served by the changes.
Additionally, the recommendations put forward by the committee are an imperfect compromise. It seems that there are other options that could still be considered that may do a better job of satisfying the most people. Though finding this balance is difficult, we question the stress-relieving benefit that comes with adding another two days to spring break, compared to the benefit that these days could bring elsewhere in the calendar. Adding one of these days to study week as a rest day could have huge mental health benefits, and adding the second to make Senior Week four days would help preserve this Cornell tradition.
While building this proposal, the University has worked to manage a large number of constraints. It seems, however, that the Committee is desperate to reach the finish line on this project when more consideration is warranted. Aside from adding a Labor Day holiday last year, the last time the calendar was changed was 1984. Such a potentially long-lasting change requires more time and input.