Students petition academic calendar for 2015-2016

By Michael Sugerman, Daily News Editor
Published February 16, 2015

More than 4,000 people have signed a petition demanding the University to change its 2015-2016 academic calendar, which currently schedules Fall 2015 exams to end Dec. 23 and the Winter 2016 semester to begin Jan. 6.

The petition, posted through the Central Student Government's UPetition website, says in its description that the current schedule would inconvenience the University's out-of-state students.

“For out-of-state students, this would require flying home on Christmas Eve, not only causing an obstruction of a religious holiday, but also causing an extreme increase in flight prices — most by hundreds of dollars,” the petition reads.

By contrast, the Fall 2014 semester ended Dec. 19, with Winter 2015 classes commencing Jan. 7. The 2015-2016 Winter Break will be shorter than the 2014-2015 Winter Break by five days if the academic calendar goes unchanged.

LSA freshman Lauren Siegel created the petition as part of a group project for her Organizational Studies class, Activism, which, according to its course guide description, focuses on the “practice of democracy” and asks students to review the “writings by scholars and practitioners of social movements, while at the same time requiring students to plan and engage directly in activism themselves.”

This specific assignment asks students to write an essay identifying a social problem that “affects the public interest” and “sketch a plan to mobilize political forces to ameliorate this problem.”

Siegel said LSA freshman Luke Barwikowski originally pitched the calendar issue to the class last week. They joined four other students — LSA freshman Annie Boehrer, LSA sophomore Molly Weiss, Kinesiology sophomore William McPherson and Art and Design junior Laura Maier — dubbed themselves “Crush the Calendar” and got to work. The petition wasn't an official part of the project; they just wanted to test the waters.

“We said, ‘Let’s just try a petition. Let’s see if we have a following at all,’ ” Siegel said.

“This is just the starting point for us,” she added. “We have a lot of things ahead. This was, more than anything, to figure out if this is something other people knew about. We realized that most people didn’t. That changes our next step.”

LSA sophomore Sydney Brown, who is from Las Vegas, said she signed the petition because she feels the shortened break will further constrain already-limited time to visit with her family during the school year.

“Seeing in the past, as I had one of the latest finals last year, and given the numerous amounts of flight delays and travel expenses and everything ... that time adds up in regard to cutting out time from seeing your family,” she said.

She added that by the last days of final exams, out-of-state students are ready to return home — and later exams would exacerbate this issue.

“I think overall, kids will do worse on finals because they are so homesick and just eager to get out, that it’ll just create a negative reaction among campus,” Brown said. “I know firsthand, when I had my final on (Dec. 19) last semester, kids were already checked out, ready to go and just basically waiting to get it over with.”

The University’s Board of Regents is set to discuss the 2015-2016 academic calendar at its February meeting Thursday, per an action request submitted by University Provost Martha Pollack.

The resolution in place does not address Winter Break. Instead, it deals with potential end-of-year conflicts for April 2016.

Siegel said at least some of the six “Crush the Calendar” founders will be at the meeting.

As is, the academic calendar schedules Winter 2016 classes to end April 19, “study days” for April 20, 23 and 24, and exams for April 21 and 22, and April 25 to 28. In this scenario, the first day of exams would overlap with the first night of the Jewish celebration of Passover.

Furthermore, commencement activities are set to take place from April 28 to May 1. The latter date coincides with Greek Orthodox Easter, or Pascha.

“As a non-religious, public institution the University does not observe religious holidays, however we have made it a practice to make every reasonable effort to help students avoid negative academic consequences when their religious obligations conflict with academic requirements,” the action request reads.

Pollack’s action request also proposes that classes end April 18, one day earlier than scheduled, and exams move forward to April 20 to avoid overlapping with Passover. Additionally, the resolution states that “timing of graduation ceremonies will be modified” to accommodate Pascha.

Public Policy senior Bobby Dishell, CSG president, wrote in a tweet Monday evening that CSG is working to resolve the issue of Fall 2015 semester dates.

“We’ve e-mailed admin to work to resolve the issues regarding next year’s academic calendar,” he wrote. “Make your voice heard.”