September 4, 2007

Current Academic Calendar Mandates Labor Day Class

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Labor Day, a day created solely for honoring those who labor, is a day on which students and working adults across America enjoy the day off. At many universities, this includes faculty, students and staff. At Cornell, however, only those workers covered by the United Auto Workers Union and administrative support staff are granted this day of rest, leaving everyone else to labor.
As students trudged to class yesterday, many questioned the reasoning behind Cornell’s decision to hold class on Labor Day. Charles Walcott Ph.D. ’59, dean of faculty, is responsible for setting the academic calendar. Although it was not his original decision to hold classes on Labor Day, he said the decision has an academic motivation. According to Walcott, if Cornell were to take a day off, it may be disruptive to classes, particularly laboratories.
“[Labs] are scheduled on a week-long basis, sometimes even running from Monday to Saturday. If you take Monday off, it ruins the whole week,” he said.
According to Walcott, Cornell is mandated by the state of New York to have “x weeks of instruction,” and Cornell is scheduled for the minimum amount of instruction. Furthermore, two parts of the academic year are lumped in with these “weeks of instruction.” One of these weeks is study week.
Walcott also acknowledged a rumor that has been circulating for some time now.
“I heard that Student and Academic services were thinking of giving up one orientation day. Classes would then begin a day earlier, and we could add that extra vacation day either to labor day weekend or Thanksgiving” he said.
“Personally I’d support an extra day before thanksgiving … Biology 101 tends to be a little empty on that Wednesday anyway.”
The decision to begin school a day earlier rests in the hands of Susan H. Murphy, vice president of student and academic services. According to Murphy, “no decision has been made yet. There would be many issues to balance.”
Among them would be the grading of placement exams, the productivity of each orientation day and the implications of starting early for faculty and graduate students. Mrs. Murphy concluded, “I suspect such a decision will not be made this year.”
The good news for students, however, is that the decision would partially rest in our hands, according to Murphy.
Even with its devotion to ‘advancing the world of work’, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations held classes yesterday.
“When I arrived in 1985 … ILR did not teach on Labor Day” said Harry Katz, dean of ILR.
“A fair number of students take classes in other schools at Cornell … and it seemed odd that they were so out of sync with the rest of the student community” said Katz.
He also said that around 1987, a decision was made to put ILR on the general Cornell schedule.
“It’s an important holiday … but we don’t want to institute a day off since it is disruptive to the students … we don’t have to have a day off to commemorate it,” Katz said.
Instead of canceling classes, ILR hosted several pre-Labor Day activities.