November 27, 2011

Calendar Committee Considers Longer Thanksgiving Break

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Prof. Mary Katzenstein, government, used to hold her Government 3141: Prisons lecture the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, just as she would on any other day on the University’s academic calendar. But two years ago, as Katzenstein noted low class attendance before break, she decided to cancel lecture and host a coffee hour at Collegetown Bagels instead.

“Over the years, my experience has been that attendance has been so far down on Tuesday that I can’t cover the material I could expect everyone to be responsible for,” said Katzenstein, who stressed that by canceling class she was not reducing students’ workloads. “I’ve just become more realistic about what I can expect.”

Katzenstein is not the only Cornell professor who has struggled to balance students’ Thanksgiving break travel plans with the University’s schedule, according to members of the Faculty Senate’s Academic Calendar Committee. To remedy the situation, the committee is considering a policy change that would cancel all classes on Wednesday.

“The committee has not yet made a recommendation yet, so all of this is hypothetical,” said Dean of Faculty Prof. William Fry, plant pathology and microbe-biology. “My hope is that we’ll be able to make it public by the end of the semester.”

Fry said that while he has not noticed a significant decrease in attendance in his own classes recently, waiting until Wednesday afternoon to begin break is too “constricting” for students.

“Wednesday is a terrible travel day and some students who would like to get home simply can’t … so I think this gives a great deal more flexibility in terms of travel,” he said.

President of the Student Assembly Natalie Raps ’12, who is also a member of the committee, expressed her enthusiasm for the proposed change, saying that canceling Wednesday classes could reduce student stress levels.

“I think a lot of students are taking off earlier for Thanksgiving break … it only makes sense to lengthen the day so they have the full day off,” she said. “They want a break to be a break; they want a whole day off instead of a half day.”

Fry acknowledged concerns that beginning break earlier would prompt students to leave as early as the Thursday or Friday before Thanksgiving break. Still, he stated his support for the potential policy change, saying, “We can’t do too much about that.”

Even if students began leaving earlier for break, it would not be possible for the University to give the whole week off because New York State laws require it to have a certain number of days in each semester of the academic calendar, Raps said.

According to the committee, the University must hold 69 days of instruction each semester.

Peter Schwartz ’14, whose discussion section for Government 3665: American Political Thought From Madison to Malcom X, was moved from Wednesday to Tuesday, missed his section to leave early for break this year.

“Flights to the West Coast are more expensive on Wednesday than Tuesday and Monday … [and] being from Los Angeles, going home for three days isn’t always worth it,” he said.

Schwartz added, “I’m sure a lot of people would have missed section, anyway.”

Melanie Halbout ’13, another student who left Tuesday, said that changing the University’s policy would be “more efficient” and beneficial for students.

“In my house, there were only two people left by Wednesday, anyway,” she said. “Even though most people think Thanksgiving technically doesn’t start until Thursday evening, I wanted to go home early … If I’d left later, I would have felt more pressed for time.”

University Registrar Cassie Dembosky said the new policy, if approved, would likely go into effect in three to five years.

Until then, some professors may continue canceling classes because of dismal attendance rates.

Dan Temel contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Akane Otani