In the past week, the Fall 2015 academic calendar has caused uproar within the University’s student body. A petition created by LSA freshman Lauren Siegel for her Organizational Studies class, Activism, calls for the University to change the exam schedule. As it stands, the last day for professors to give exams would be Dec. 23, and classes are set to begin Jan. 6, allowing only one day for students with exams on Dec. 23 to travel home for Christmas Eve, and shortening an already short break. As of 12:22 a.m. on Friday, the petition has 5,443 signatures. While it is not feasible for the Fall 2015 calendar to change with such short notice, the late exam schedule is expected to recur every time Labor Day falls in the second week of September. Therefore, the University must reconsider the fall schedule in future years to begin prior to Labor day resulting in final exams ending earlier.

According to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, classes traditionally start after Labor Day due to previous faculty and student preference. In 2002, students requested the Fall Break, pushing the exam schedule later. Both of these factors have led to a later end of the semester. This issue arose in 2004 and 2010, and is expected to arise again in 2020 as the result of a 2013 action request written by University Provost Martha Pollack. The request reads, “There are no conflicts with religious holidays contained in this calendar.”

However, while exams may not end on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, there are conflicts in this calendar. Ending exams on the Dec. 23 prevents many students, professors and GSIs from making it home in time to celebrate the holidays and potentially conflicts with religious obligations. The late exam dates add stress and difficulties for travel plans. December is often a time of heavy snowstorms and weather-related delays. If airline delays occur, or roads are unsafe for travel, members of the University community may not be able to get home safely and in time for Christmas Eve.

Additionally, faculty are required to complete all grades 72 hours after the final exam is given. Therefore, if a final is given on Dec. 23 and the faculty wants to avoid grading on the holiday, there is effectively less than 24 hours to complete grading. Public Policy Prof. Paul Courant, who was Provost of the University from 2002 to 2005, agreed, saying, “For many of my colleagues it’s really hard. Not only is it that they have three days but you know one of those days is Christmas Eve and one of those days is Christmas and that matters to a lot of people.” Put simply, the University should be more understanding of this concern as it directly conflicts with academics and faculty well-being.

Despite the University being a non-religious institution, University Provost Martha Pollack wrote in an action request, “…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.” In this situation, this is clearly not the case. Due to strict exam policy, students will not receive flexibility from their professors to take the exam on a different date unless approved by the Final Examination Committee. In cases when the exam schedule does end as late as Dec. 23, the University should relax this exam policy to accommodate student travel within two days of Christmas Eve.

There are also glaring inconsistencies in University scheduling decisions. Pollack’s action request for change of the winter term proposed that classes end April 18 instead of April 20 to avoid overlapping with Passover. Therefore, it is questionable as to why the University wouldn’t recognize the same concern with ending exams close to Christmas.

A change in the academic calendar with such short notice would affect programs that are already planned, such as new student orientation, and therefore should not be changed for the coming fall. At Thursday’s meeting, the Board of Regents acknowledged the options to amending the calendar are shortening Fall Break or starting classes earlier in the year. Since Fall Break gives a much-needed respite to students and was highly demanded in 2002 by the student population, it should not be eliminated. Therefore, the University should consider starting classes a week earlier, before Labor Day. While there would certainly be opposition to this proposal, it is the best solution to fixing this problem. Scheduling around Christmas should be of higher priority than beginning school after Labor Day.

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