February 10, 2011

Faculty Consider Banning Homework For Academic Breaks

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Divided over the language of a proposal to limit homework assignments over academic breaks, the Faculty Senate tabled the resolution at their meeting on Wednesday.

The Faculty Senate decided to send the resolution back to the Educational Policy Committee for further clarification by a vote of 30 to 19.

The EPC proposed the resolution in response to a need  for an “academic environment that encourages mental health.”

However, some faculty said assignments over breaks are unrelated to mental health issues at Cornell.

“The stress on students is coming from a lot of other places than reading a short story or a novel over break. If we want to solve student stress problems, we should deal with them head on,” Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, English, said.

In contrast, Prof. David Delchamps, electrical and computer engineering, said that several small assignments can amount to a stressful time commitment for students on break.

Delchamps said that while faculty members might not consider their individual assignments stress-inducing, collectively, homework over break affects students.

Dean of Faculty Prof. Bill Fry, plant pathology, read the resolution for Chairman of the EPC Prof. Bruce Levitt, theatre, who was at home sick.

“What the EPC is suggesting it that you should not surprise students the Friday before break with an assignment,” Fry said. “If the assignment is on the syllabus at the beginning of the semester, then that is okay because they have time to plan for that.”

Many faculty senate members at the meeting said the resolution — which intended to prohibit professors from giving assignments over break without notice, but not in general — was too vague.

“The way [the resolution] is framed does not indicate what exactly its intent is,” Cheyfitz said. “There is nothing in here about surprising students right before break.”

Although some faculty senate members said the language of the resolution needed to specify the issue of advance notice, others supported reducing assignments over break regardless of whether professors included them in their original syllabi.

“I would like to take the resolution as it is worded,” Prof. Carl Franck, physics, said. “We should not be assigning work over breaks.”

Other faculty echoed Franck’s sentiment, defending students’ rights to a recess from work.

Prof. Shawkat Toorawa, Near Eastern studies, mentioned the importance of allowing students to take advantage of their time away from the classroom.

“I think the reality is that we, as a teaching culture, need to begin to realize what the demands are on our students and be sensitive of their need of a break,” Toorawa said.

Also in favor of the resolution as it was written, Prof. Elizabeth Earle, plant breeding and genetics, saw the resolution as a “wake-up call” to faculty to reconsider the work load that they assign.

“Faculty will begin to think about the assignments that they are making if we pass this,” Earle said.

Considering the disagreement over the resolution’s language, faculty senate members worried how it could be implemented effectively.

Although many members said that the resolution’s ambiguous wording could lead to misinterpretation, the Senate decided to send the motion back to the EPC for further discussion instead of rejecting the resolution.

Original Author: Kayla DeLeon