The season of giving is over, and apparently it left the University uninspired. With this semester beginning only two days after New Year’s Day, many out-of-state students found themselves forced into a post-holiday rush just to get back in time for classes. While crowded airports may dampen spirits, inflated ticket prices are enough to crush holiday cheer. Creating an academic calendar that accommodates everyone’s interests may be a Herculean task, but this semester’s illogical start date makes it clear that we need a little more creativity and a lot more student input in scheduling decisions.
Last month, the Michigan Student Assembly offered students one way to vent their frustrations and launched an online petition to garner support for an academic calendar overhaul. The proposed plan would tack an extra week onto winter break, shift spring break back one week and add an extra week to the end of the winter semester. The changes would attempt to prevent schedules like the one this year, which forced students into hefty transportation costs, a one-day period to buy textbooks between New Year’s Day and the new semester and a stampede back to the dorms on Tuesday.
While strong in spirit, the proposal is weak in practicality.
The University’s academic calendar uses a trimester system that evenly divides the year into three parts for the spring and summer semesters, the winter semester and fall semester. This system makes sure that students get the same amount of class days per semester. It also gives students flexibility during the summer, whether that means getting a head start in the job market, going abroad to study or staying back in Ann Arbor to take spring or summer classes. Wherever days are adding to a semester, inevitably they subtract days from another semester or from the breaks between semesters
If enacted, the MSA proposal would tie the University’s hands in this fragile balancing act. While students might rejoice at the prospect of an extra week of winter break, they might not be as supportive when they realize it could subtract a week from their summer in Costa Rica.
Still, a happy medium between these two camps is possible.
Although its petition doesn’t reflect the needed nuance, the MSA petition had the right idea: Students must speak out when the schedule is needlessly inconveniencing them. At the same time, students must realize that the schedule shouldn’t be viewed as week-by-week problem, but rather a day-by-day problem. This means that students may have to concede a study day, start a day earlier or end a day later to get a day that is more important.
Similarly, the University should be soliciting students for more input – some creativity wouldn’t hurt either. The academic calendar is prepared by the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and is usually approved two years in advance by the University Board of Regents. At both levels, there is ample opportunity for the University to work with MSA and make the student body aware of how the scheduling process works and how they can have their ideas heard. The University could also come up with new ideas to save a day or two when necessary. Why wouldn’t it be possible for the University to condense the final exam schedule done to four days instead of five by extending exam times later into the evening if an extra day is needed?
Two days shouldn’t be too much to ask if it keeps students out of snow-covered terminals when it is most needed.