As the academic calendar giveth, the academic calendar taketh away.
That, at least, is what Prof. Jeff Doyle, plant biology, may experience as chairman of the Faculty Senate’s Academic Calendar Committee, which released a report Wednesday to solicit feedback on preliminary discussions to redesign Cornell’s calendar.
The committee, which was formed in response to a cluster of student suicides on campus last year, suggested adding a second vacation period to the spring semester starting on Presidents’ Day.
“The suicides all happened at the end of the long period between the start of classes and spring break,” Doyle said. “The image I think we have is of students trying to hang on until break and some of them not quite making it to that haven. Could some of them have made it through if break had been a bit earlier? We’ll never know, of course, but centering spring break is about the easiest change we could make.”
However, since New York State law sets a minimum number of class weeks to receive accreditation, adding a second break would require the University to add classes elsewhere in the semester. The report therefore recommends reducing the length of study week or “the period between the end of final examinations and May commencement” — Senior Week — to compensate.
President-elect of the Student Assembly Natalie Raps ’12, who joined the Academic Calendar Committee two weeks ago, voiced strong concerns about either change.
“The moment I heard about these changes I was obviously really upset,” Raps said.
She argued that some of the ideas in the report would have adverse effects on student mental health, despite the committee’s intentions.
“Messing with senior week, which is a week a lot of students de-stress … allows no time for seniors between classes’ end and graduation,” Raps said. She added this would create “a more stressful situation” for seniors.
Raps argued that shortening study week would hurt already burdened students.
“A lot of students get really stressed out when professors give them more prelims than they can handle,” Raps said.
Doyle countered that Cornell’s study week is longer than those at the University’s peer institutions and “may actually be too long in the opinion of some students.”
“The committee is very concerned that the study/exam period not become even more stressful for students through changes,” he stated in an email. “I recognize that some of these goals or principles might be mutually incompatible.”
He also said that moving the date of commencement earlier could benefit Cornell staff, who he said are sometimes burned out by the end of the long spring semester.
Doyle recognized, however, that these changes could cause their own complications.
“Some people like commencement on Memorial Day weekend; maybe it’s good for parents who want to take off time to see their kids graduate,” Doyle said.
Dean of Faculty Bill Fry, who created the committee, acknowledged the difficulty of rearranging the calendar.
“If you push something here, something bulges there,” he said. “Everything is connected.”
Doyle stressed that the committee would be consulting all University assemblies before submitting the document to the Faculty Senate, which, if approved, would then need to be approved by the central administration.
“Lots of different people need to weigh in on this,” he said. “It’s likely no significant changes would even be implemented for two years or more.”
Raps acknowledged that the committee’s work was far from finalized but stressed its importance.
“These have been sent to the provost and president already as recommendations,” Raps said. “These are big changes that are going to be affecting students mostly.”