University of Michigan students are notoriously industrious. Whether we’re going to classes, studying and doing homework or taking part in an active social life, our days are jam-packed from start to finish. You rarely hear people around here talk about what an awesome four-hour nap they just took — except, of course, for those few exceptions who won’t let anything, especially schoolwork, stand in the way of their afternoon naps. With such full schedules, we hardly have the time to explore the sort of extracurricular activities and student organizations that can truly enrich our time at the University.
As an assistant editor for the Daily’s opinion section, I’ve had first-hand experience with this dilemma. I am constantly searching for time to fit in both my schoolwork and my two five to eight-hour shifts at the Daily each week. Sadly, I must admit that once or twice I resorted to studying for my calculus quizzes while simultaneously setting up the opinion page (sh, don’t tell the editorial page editor). Yes, Daily readers, it is true: it is mere mortals that create this page for you each day, not communist newspaper gremlins or some crazy supercomputer that only prints out liberal pro-Obama propaganda. Sorry if that bursts anyone’s bubble.
But even if I could be replaced by little red commie gremlins, I would never give up my work for an easier schedule. Finding something to do outside the traditional routine of classes, studying, partying — I mean, more studying — has proved to be one of the most enriching experiences of my first six months as a University student. Moreover, I’ve made great friends I never would have encountered if not for our common purpose of providing informed opinion on contemporary issues affecting the student body.
Engaging yourself with the extracurricular life this campus has to offer can be extremely fulfilling, but too often students are forced to put aside their aspirations of involvement because they don’t have time to pursue an interest in a way that doesn’t satisfy an academic requirement. This is truly a shame because, as cliché as it sounds, college really is the time to “find ourselves.” Once we go off into the real world — where Subway employees stare at you blankly when you ask if they accept Blue Bucks — the opportunities for self-discovery and exploration just aren’t as abundant and accessible as they are as an undergraduate.
Unfortunately, many students feel so restricted by their academic commitments (which are rightfully their first priority) that they can’t afford to give the time to participate in something they perceive as not offering a tangible reward. This is an unfortunate reality, as innumerable studies, including a 1995 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, have linked extracurricular involvement with enhanced academic achievement. The University should incentivize students to get involved and reward those who take on the additional workload by awarding them academic credit.
In doing so — even if it was only one credit — the University would catalyze a wave of student involvement. Students would be able to lessen slightly their course loads while supplementing their schedules with extracurricular activities, allowing them to pursue interests outside the classroom and becoming more well-rounded individuals — a goal the University ostensibly tries to fulfill by mandating that students take a ridiculous number of required distribution courses. Instead of saying, “We want to encourage you to be well-rounded,” the University is sending the message, “Be well-rounded, or else!”
There are obvious opportunities for abuse with such a credit-for-participation program. But given the proper safeguards, this idea is quite feasible. The University would have to approve credit-receiving organizations based on the standard that they legitimately supplement the academic life of the student body.
Additionally, the University should require students seeking academic credit to submit time sheets signed by supervising members of their organizations, demonstrating that they are indeed putting forth sufficient effort to deserve academic credit. I would suggest a weekly four-hour commitment for each credit awarded. Even if there was a cap on how many hours you could obtain in this fashion, if the ratio were larger or the rules were stricter, the underlying principle of incentivizing student involvement would remain.
Towards the end of last semester, I submitted this proposal, along with many others, to the “What to Fix” campaign sponsored by the Michigan Student Assembly. Unfortunately, it was turned down by MSA’s Campus Improvement Commission. If you are in favor of my proposal, I encourage you to email your support to email@example.com and pressure our representatives to make it a reality. MSA, I urge you to take up my initiative and lobby the University to give students credit where credit is due.
Alex Schiff is an assistant editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.