When Taio Cruz steps onto the stage on Slope Day this Friday, students in Prof. Thomas Fox’s ’71 genetics course may find themselves sober, taking an exam in the company of a beaker full of fruit flies.
If they are lucky, they may make it out of the 2:30 p.m. exam in time for the raucous revelry on the Slope. But odds are they’ll only be able to hear the refrain of “Break Your Heart” in the distance.
While Prof. William Fry Ph.D. ’70, plant pathology, dean of faculty, said that no professor should hold final exams during the last week of classes, he maintained that classes — even those with tests or presentations — “are to be held on Slope Day.”
“According to faculty legislation, the final day of classes is the final day of classes. As far as I know of, there is no suggestion that they should not be held,” Fry said.
Fox, noting that “people pay good money to go here,” said he abides by the Faculty Senate’s policy. At the same time, however, he questioned “why the University would schedule a rock concert on the last day of classes.”
“This is the inherent problem: If you schedule a big event on the last day of classes, it conflicts with classes that are held that day,” he said.
While Fox joked that “if you want to show up to the lab drunk and take the exam, you can” because “we don’t give a sobriety exam at the door,” he also added that he is not enthused about the predicament he faces each Slope Day.
Each year, Fox said, the laboratory coordinator for his genetics course receives three to 12 verbal complaints about his practical exam, which, for students in Friday’s lab section, has fallen on Slope Day every spring. While students are often less than happy about the scheduling, Fox said he has little recourse: with more than 200 students enrolled in genetics, it would be “a nightmare” to reschedule Friday’s section, he said.
To move the exam to a Monday, for instance, Fox would have to pay staff overtime to complete the preparatory work for the lab, he said. Cancelling the exam altogether would entail dropping a lab, which he said he is unwilling to do. Additionally, moving the exam to an evening time slot would require “dragging TAs and students to class at night,” which, “for the sake of a fraction of 50 students in class, would inconvenience all staff.”
“We’re put in the unhappy position where we have to tell some fraction of students who care passionately about Slope Day, ‘I’m sorry,’” Fox said. “It’s certainly not a popularity contest.”
Chris Bando ’12 is one student who has resigned himself to attending Fox’s class on Friday.
When news broke of the section’s exam being held on Slope Day, “people were pissed off … to put it mildly,” Bando said.
He said he took issue with scheduling mandatory classes on Slope Day.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the school understands and supports people skipping classes on Friday — why else would they have Slope Day starting Friday morning?” Bando said. “If they expect kids to skip [classes] on Friday, I think it’s a bit obnoxious to have [classes] that are unskippable.”
Given that cans of beer litter roadsides before noon on Slope Day, he “wouldn’t put it past some people to come to class tipsy,” Bando said.
For some students, whose classes interrupt their Slope Day debauchery, Bando’s prediction may not be inaccurate.
Michael Gladstone ’13 recalled the morning of his Slope Day 2011: a mandatory field trip to the Herbert F. Johnson Museum for his Mandarin class.
“I kind of stumbled over to the Johnson Museum, shut my mouth for an hour and got it over with,” he said.
Fellow fraternity and sorority members, clad in their pinnies in the Johnson’s Asian art exhibition, exchanged knowing smirks, Gladstone said.
Weeks before, when they had learned that the class would require them to trek to the Johnson for an educational field trip, several students grumbled — but “no one’s Chinese was good enough to create an argument,” Gladstone said.
While Gladstone said he now looks back on the day with amusement, others recalled their Slope Day class experiences less fondly.
When Ryan Lett ’12 learned he would have to attend his organic chemistry laboratory at 1:30 p.m. on Slope Day 2011 to clean up and check out lab equipment, he immediately took action, petitioning both in person and “through numerous emails” to conduct the check-out before Friday, he said.
“I tried to be very professional and said I could come in any time that week to do it,” Lett said, explaining that he, as the president of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, was responsible for sober monitoring at the house on Slope Day.
But his professor, Lett said, denied his multiple requests to reschedule the check-out.
“It’s discouraging to me that faculty are not helping promote student safety,” Lett said. “Alcohol safety is a big deal.”
Despite the complaints of disgruntled students who may be forced to attend lectures on Slope Day, the tradition of holding the event on the last day of classes does not have a foreseeable end.
Noelle Cornelio ’12, chair of the Slope Day Programming Board, said that previous boards have not considered moving Slope Day to another day — for instance, the Saturday after classes end — in part because roughly 50 percent of Slope Day’s volunteers are faculty and staff who she said may be less incentivized to commute to campus on a Saturday to help the event.
While Cornelio acknowledged that “not everyone loves the idea of holding Slope Day on a Friday,” she pointed out that “a lot of our events don’t start until classes end.” Additionally, she said, the event itself is rooted in Cornell’s history.
“I think the thing to remember is that we’re not coming up with rules to have it on a Friday. It’s just tradition,” Cornelio said.