In recent years, there has been a push from newer generations of workers for better work-life balance. This was exacerbated by the pandemic, which gave many workers a taste of having more time off and opportunities for remote work. Since then, social media has flooded with content encouraging Gen Z and millennials to reject the 24/7 hustle culture and instead advocate for their own personal time outside of work to be respected. This mindset shift needs to be applied to academics as well. Cornell should protect students’ rights to a real work-life balance rather than maintaining outdated policies that offer little to no protection of students’ personal time during academic breaks.
In 2011, the Faculty Senate passed a Work Over Break resolution that briefly defined the University’s stance on professors assigning work to students during academic break periods. The resolution “strongly discourages” professors from structuring assignments in a way that will require students to do work over academic breaks. What this resolution does not do is explicitly prohibit work or prelims from being assigned during or immediately following breaks. To its credit, the resolution does state that “Students should be given sufficient time to carry out assignments and prepare for classes without being required to devote their breaks to such preparations,” but this is a vague and unenforced recommendation at best.
In reality, it is a fairly common practice for professors to schedule assignments in such a way that students need to work over break to do the assignments well and complete them on time. Over spring break, for example, my to-do list included two essays with significant research components, one problem set-style homework assignment and multiple readings all due within the first day or two back from break. I’m not the only one — it’s very common to hear from my peers that they face similar situations. Many also have prelims scheduled in the week following break. It is routine for professors to concentrate assignment due dates and prelims in either the week before or the week after breaks, forcing students to have an increased workload both in the week leading up to break and over the course of break. This causes break periods to foster more stress and pressure for students rather than serving their intended purpose of actually giving students some time off from academics to recoup and refresh before the final push of the semester.
It’s time for Cornell to establish an official and specific policy that promotes students’ wellbeing and cultivates opportunities for real rest and recuperation during academic breaks. The new policy should include a direct ban on assignments due during or in the week immediately following break. There are 14 other weeks in the semester for professors to assign work — they can take their pick. Additionally, Cornell should not allow prelims to be scheduled immediately before or after break to reduce the amount of pressure placed on students in the days surrounding break.
The new generation of work-life balance is here to stay, and universities need to catch up. Students are entitled to time off from their obligations in the same way full-time professionals are. Breaks are a chance for students to take well-deserved time off to rest, recover and come back stronger. Universities need to step up to the plate and create policies that will honor students’ personal time and advocate for their rights to it.
Halle Swasing is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Goes Without Swasing runs every other Sunday this semester.