September 12, 2012

Provost Approves Divisive Calendar

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After months of debate and strong condemnation by student representatives, Provost Kent Fuchs has approved the final version of a new academic calendar with three modifications, he announced at a meeting of the Faculty Senate Wednesday. The new calendar will go into effect in Spring 2014.

The calendar changes, which were approved by the Faculty Senate in May, include a new two-day break in Februrary and, most contentiously, shortening study week, exam week and Senior Week.

One of the Provost’s modifications — not part of the calendar approved by the Faculty Senate — is “a new University holiday … for all employees” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the third Monday in January, Cornell said in a statement.

Additionally, for four out of every six years, fall semester classes will begin one week later than they currently do, allowing the University to hold its fall graduation ceremony one week later.

However, in the Faculty Senate’s proposal, the ceremony would have landed as late as Dec. 22 or 23 every few years. Fuchs said under his changes, graduation will not fall this close to the holidays.

“There are a number of international students who would not have gotten home in time for the holidays,” Fuchs said. “I think [the fall graduation ceremony] is too close to the holidays.”

Fuchs’ third modification to the Faculty Senate’s plan calls for the University to create a committee to finalize the details of the final exam schedule.

Fuchs said that he will work with the committee, which will be comprised of members of the University staff, professors and student leaders, to determine an algorithm designed to prevent exam scheduling conflicts.

“What feeds into that algorithm is yet to be determined. For example, you can tell [the software program] to minimize conflicts, or minimize back to back exams,” Fuchs said, adding that one proposed algorithm involves not scheduling final exams on Sundays.

Geoffrey Block ’14, at-large representative for the Student Assembly, said the committee must ensure that the algorithm avoids conflicts that will increase student stress levels.

“The only thing the committee should be looking for in the algorithm is how to maximize student mental health, and that should be their only goal. The way you do that is by reducing back-to-back exams [or] having two exams in the same day,” Block said.

Block also expressed concern that the scheduling algorithm will not take into account final paper deadlines during finals week.

“The algorithm is brought up as a solution to a lot of problems. It’s brought up as a way to reduce the stress that students have,” Block said. “The problem is that the algorithm doesn’t take into account things like papers and projects where you’re not in the system, and that’s a serious concern.”

Members of the Faculty Senate touted the changes, saying they would reduce student stress and improve mental health by adding additional days off.

The proposed changes, which Fuchs announced his approval of  on Wednesday, include adding two vacation days in February; condensing the exam study period from seven days to five and exam week to eight days; shortening Senior Week from seven days to between two and four; and changing the Wednesday before Thanksgiving from a half day to a full day off, according to a plan approved by the Faculty Senate in May.

However, many students voiced strong opposition to the changes, arguing that the proposal to shorten exam week and study week would increase stress rather than reduce it.

In April, the S.A. unanimously passed a resolution condemning the changes and a lack of student input in crafting the proposal. Additionally, a petition urgingFuchs to veto the changes collected more than 2,000 signatures.

Fuchs said he took student complaints into consideration when deciding whether to approve the proposal, particularly when deciding to modify the final plan. He said he believes that if the algorithm is well-designed, concern about the shortened exam period will be mitigated.

“I got a lot of emails,” he said. “We worked over the summer to look at how we can modify what the committee approved … The whole idea of thinking about final exams came from student input.”

The calendar will be re-evaluated three years after it is implemented, in Spring 2017, according to Fuchs.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky