Last week, the Calendar Committee, comprised of various constituencies across the University, voted to approve their final proposal for an academic calendar that the Faculty Senate will vote on at its next meeting on May 9. Notably absent was the support of the two students on the calendar committee.
While this new calendar purports to reduce stress and improve mental health, the two student representatives on the committee question the underlying justification for pushing forward these changes, and their opposition should give an enormous amount of pause to the Faculty Senate. Any proposal that seeks to make students’ lives better but does not have the support of the students is unacceptable. Students, the ones who are actually taking finals and are directly affected by the schedule, must be heard.
The new calendar will 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; change the Wednesday before Thanksgiving from a half day to a full day off; and add two days off during President’s Week in February. The student representatives doubted that the mental health benefits that would come from the added vacation days would outweigh the harm that comes from significantly shortening study week, and we agree with this assessment. It should be up to the students to decide what they prefer, and the Faculty Senate must not make such a brazenly paternalistic decision.
The process must be slowed down. Formalized student input must be gathered. If the recommendations of these two students on the committee are to be completely ignored, the Faculty Senate must have other evidence in hand to show that students support the changes, and it is clear that they do not have it. The Faculty Senate or the Calendar Committee could have polled the students and gotten their opinions in a more formalized way. This has not been done.
Proponents of the calendar changes argue that an algorithm the University has developed to create natural breaks for students during finals week will allow them to shorten the number of days without increasing stress. To create these natural breaks, this algorithm will schedule exams based on the classes that students are taking and not simply based on the times that classes meet. We are skeptical about the reliance on this algorithm alone to quell stress during finals week.
The effectiveness of this algorithm for reducing stress has not been tested, and the Calendar Committee and the Faculty Senate might find that they achieve more broad reaching student support for the calendar if they test out this algorithm before making other, more drastic changes. If the algorithm is applied to the current calendar and students find it effective, then perhaps the University can move forward with other changes. Pushing all these changes through at the same time seems rushed.
The University cannot forget that its purpose is primarily to benefit students, and the decisions that it makes must keep students’ opinions in mind. If it does not have student support, it should not move forward with the changes to the calendar.