September 5, 2003

It's Friday. Are You Hungover?

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In planning out their future courses, few students can deny the allure of working in a class-free Friday with a little scheduling finesse. But according to an article published in the Wall Street Journal last week, Cornell students could soon be spending their Thursday nights hitting the books rather than the bars.

Around the country, colleges are trimming down on three-day weekends by bulking up their Friday schedules, a day which has often seen classes go sparsely attended or not held at all.

For now, however, Cornell students who like their Fridays light and easy can breathe a sigh of relief — the University has no plans for a Friday-scheduling frenzy.

“We don’t find an increasing scheduling of courses on Friday, not at Cornell,” said Dotsevi Sogah, chair of the Educational Policy Committee, which examines student scheduling. “Whether we will change and follow everyone else we don’t know yet.”

University officials acknowledge that there is a dip in attendance rates toward the end of the week but indicate that it is too mild to prompt any corrective action.

“It turns out there is a slight drop-off on Friday afternoons, but it’s not that great,” said one faculty member.

The relative lack of action stems in part from the fact that Cornell has always utilized Fridays to some extent, although historically they are not as heavily scheduled as earlier days of the week.

“In terms of the largest number of classes scheduled, they peak on Wednesday,” Sogah said. “On Thursday and Friday we see less.”

A busy Friday is not the case at all universities, however, and many are taking steps to reverse a gradual extension of weekend free time. Syracuse University has made Friday classes the focal point of a new scheduling initiative, with plans aimed at halting a trend toward excessive Thursday-night partying and disturbances.

According to the Syracuse website, “many students view Thursday night as part of their weekend socializing time, just like Friday and Saturday nights,” resulting in an increase in calls to the public safety department and creating an “adverse effect on social conditions.”

While the effect of a three-day weekend on social conditions is probably a matter still up for contentious debate, it appears that more schools are falling into the Syracuse camp. Wesleyan, Miami and Clark Universities are all in the process of adding classes to their Friday schedules.

That’s not to say that Cornell has not been looking into these issues. The Educational Policy Committee conducted a survey last year examining student sleep patterns, attentiveness and attitudes toward class hours. It found, unsurprisingly, that students felt most alert between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., before sinking into a lull of mid-afternoon sleepiness. Classes are arranged with this drop-off in mind, and the midday period is the most heavily scheduled on most college campuses, a phenomenon known as “bunching.”

The hours from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., when attention spans are at their shortest, are considered protected time to be used for dinner or clubs but not for academic activities.

The survey also found a high rate of end-of-the-week absenteeism before school breaks, when the temptation of a five-, six- or even seven-day “weekend” becomes too great for all but the most devoted of students. Before last year’s fall break, for instance, only 35 percent of undergraduates showed up to their last lectures on Wednesday, and over 20 percent had disappeared at the close of classes that Monday.

David Cronheim ’07 may be a freshman, but he’s wasted no time in picking up the college lifestyle. Although academic obligations thwarted his attempt at securing a three-day weekend, he was able to keep his Friday lectures to a minimum.

“It’s not high school. Having a free day on Friday gives you a little extra break so you can have a good time on the weekend,” Cronheim said. “It means you can go out and party on Thursday night.”

Despite the hopes of many students, long weekends at Cornell are still the rare exception rather than the rule.

“It’s pretty tough to do that,” said Sean Dranagan ’06 regarding the elusive Friday off. “A lot of classes are scheduled Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so it’s kind of difficult to avoid those.”

Besides, said Dranagan, “I think Friday is a perfectly good day of the week. Why shouldn’t you have classes on Friday?”

Archived article by Jeff Sickelco