Despite opposition from students, the University Calendar Committee will present its proposed changes to the academic calendar — including two new vacation days in the spring and shortening students’ exam and study periods — to the Faculty Senate for a vote in May.
If the changes are passed by the Faculty Senate, the University would add two vacation days in February; condense the exam study period from seven days to four and exam week from eight days to six; shorten Senior Week from seven days to three; and change the Wednesday before Thanksgiving from a half day to a full day off. Additionally, Slope Day would fall on a Wednesday, rather than a Friday.
The Calendar Committee — a coalition of faculty, students and staff — was established in 2010 and tasked with revising the academic calendar for the first time since 1984, according to Prof. Jeff Doyle, plant biology, chair of the committee. Doyle said that the committee’s primary goal is to alleviate student mental health concerns.
Both of the committee’s undergraduate members — Student Assembly President Natalie Raps ’12 and Geoffrey Block ’14, S.A. at-large representative — said they do not support the committee’s proposal. Yet its other members overwhelming did; the committee approved the final version of the proposal with a vote of 8 to 1 to 1.
While Raps said she supported the additional break in February, she “doubted” that the benefits of the vacation days will offset the drawbacks of a condensed exam week.
Under the proposal, the last day of spring classes would fall on a Wednesday, followed by a four-day study period. Exams would run from Monday to Monday — occurring over the span of six days, instead of the current eight.
According to Doyle, the committee faced a “trade-off” between adding vacation days in February and shortening the study and exam periods.
“We looked at every angle and realized we couldn’t meet the minimum required days of instruction and bring in a break in February without making cuts to the exam period,” Doyle said.
Doyle also noted that the University Registrar’s new system of scheduling exams would “greatly reduce the likelihood” of students having back-to-back exams. An algorithm will be used to coordinate exams based on students’ schedules, rather than on the days and times classes meet, he said.
Block agreed that the new algorithm would be “effective” in minimizing some of the added stress of the condensed exam period. Still, he lamented what he described as an outcome in which the Calendar Committee only “met the minimum” of the S.A. members’ requests.
The committee met most of the S.A.’s recommendations: a study period with a minimum of four days; at least eight days of exams; an additional break in the spring semester; and a full day off on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
However, Raps and Block expressed discontent over the committee’s refusal to accommodate some of their other recommendations, such as a study break in the middle of the exam period.
“I felt that students didn’t have enough of a voice,” Raps said.
While Raps and Block said that the weekend currently operates as a “natural break for most students,” the proposed changes would move the weekend to the very end of the exam period, rendering scheduled exams largely uninterrupted.
Doyle said the committee neglected to add a break in the exam period because, he said, the Registrar’s new algorithm will be able to effectively shield students from back-to-back exams.
If the University schedules an uninterrupted block of exam days as proposed by the committee, students will have fewer back-to-back exams, Doyle said.
Still, Block also said he was was “very upset” that the calendar committee failed to allocate four days for Senior Week programming.
“[Raps] and I really wanted to preserve Senior Week. We’d met with the Senior Week committee, who told us they needed at least four days of programming,” he said.
Raps also pointed to what she said were two major flaws with the Calendar Committee’s decision process: the fast pace of negotiations, and her sense that undergraduate students’ concerns were not taken seriously enough.
“I wish we had more time and a more effective way of dealing with student feedback,” Raps said.
However, Doyle countered Raps’ claims that the process of reaching a final proposal was rushed.
“This process started two years ago and we’ve been over all the arguments. I know [Raps] wanted to discuss it more, but I don’t think there’s much more to discuss,” he said. “We’re not going to get a better calendar, given the constraints we have.”
However, “there was no streamlined method of communicating with students,” according to Raps. Throughout the process, the committee relied on the S.A. to act as a middleman between the committee and the student body.
“I wish there had been follow-up communication after the proposal had begun to be distributed and talked about seriously. While targeted groups were contacted, the undergraduate students on the committee had hoped for more effective and streamlined communication to all undergraduate students,” she said.
Doyle noted, however, that the group publicly aired its objectives in March 2011 and released its preliminary recommendations this spring.
“It’s not like we haven’t solicited [student] input,” Doyle said.
Prof. William Fry Ph.D ’70, plant pathology, a non-voting member of the calendar committee, said he believes the committee’s recommendations “are the best that we can do.”
“Recognizing the diversity of constituencies and diversity of needs of those constituencies, the committee's recommendations are a compromise that creates a better calendar than our current one,” Fry said.
Raps said she predicts that since Fry supports the calendar committee’s final proposal, the Senate will likely follow his lead and vote to approve the recommendations.
Still, Fry said he could not forsee how the Faculty Senate would vote.
“Obviously, the faculty are a diverse group of people, and I'm certain that faculty have very diverse reactions,” Fry said.
Block said he thinks his and Raps’ dissent could play a factor in the Senate’s decision next month.
“I think there is going to be significant controversy [in the Faculty Senate], especially since neither [of the Calendar Committee’s] undergraduate students voted in favor of the proposal,” Block said.