September 6, 2010

The Hidden Cost of a Three-Day Weekend

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Yesterday’s day off was greeted with open arms by both students looking to throw one last summer BBQ and faculty eager to finally engage in some Labor Day rest and relaxation. As a prestigious university, and leader in the field of industrial and labor relations, Cornell’s recognition of Labor Day is long overdue. Giving students, faculty and staff the day off sends a strong message in support of workers, especially at a university notorious for its refusal to suspend classes on national holidays. In addition, it lessens the burden on faculty members who had to teach without staff support on previous Labor Days. And while the University deserves praise for its decision to recognize Labor Day, it did so at the expense of an important collegiate experience: Orientation Week.The administration stated that it was able to shorten Orientation Week due to technological advances. But all the technological advances at the University’s disposal cannot replace the experience of Orientation Week — the first few days away from home and in a very different college environment can be an incredibly important experience and should not be diluted with technological stand-ins.The number of school days could have remained the same without impacting the length of Orientation Week. The easiest way to do this would have been to simply make Move In Day one day earlier. Or, if the University wanted students to move in on a Friday for convenience’s sake, a day of Winter Break could have been sacrificed.While undergrads will always privately poke fun at some of Orientation Week’s campier elements — the name games, the awkward group dinners, everything related to the generally useless summer reading assignment — the reality is that these few days are vital to acclimating to college life.Additionally, Orientation Week is one of the only times that the University has a relatively “captive” student audience. It has a pre-set amount of hours in which to help students adjust to their new environments. Programs like this year’s “Real Students, Reel Stories” screening — which featured advice from current students and recent graduates on handling life at Cornell — are valuable uses of new students’ time, and Orientation Week is one of the very few opportunities for the University to encourage attendance at such events.The University’s decision to pare down this important week is regrettable, even though it allowed for a rare three-day weekend.