January 12, January 18, January 24, February 1. These dates comprise the spectrum of when my friends return to school for the start of second semester. When I mentioned to them that my winter break ends on January 5, my friends were aghast by how little time I had at home with my family. They all wondered how their breaks could be four, five, even six weeks long when mine barely cracked three weeks.
I could easily complain about this problem. My family friend, who teaches high school math, and my sister, a high school sophomore, both complain incessantly that their breaks are too short. Even my 8-year-old neighbor whines that her break from the third grade is way too short for her liking. So instead of complaining about the length of our winter break, I challenge the University to explain the reasoning behind the schedule. I implore administrators to explain why our winter break is at most three weeks, why spring break is in February or even why the school year ends in April — resulting in a four-month summer. If the University is going to operate on such an odd schedule, then it’s only fair that the student body is privy to the calendar’s motivating logic.
Before I began writing this piece, I did some research on the University website to see if I could find any information that explained our schedule. No luck. Even on the various message boards and third-party pages on the Internet, I could not find a succinct explanation of the formation of our schedule. One of the most amazing things about the University that I noticed during my first year here was the vast amount of resources available to the student body. From e-mail crime alerts, to the career development office, to even the arrows in the Barnes and Noble book store pointing where to pick up previously purchased books, the University does an incredible job making a wide variety of information available to the student body. All this makes the lack of an explanation of the formation of the academic calendar seem incredibly counter-intuitive to the University’s existing state of resourcefulness.
I hesitate to use the word “arbitrary” when discussing the University’s academic calendar. “Arbitrary,” better describes my ideas surrounding the University’s schedule. For example, why can’t we have an extra week during winter break and tack that class time on to the end of the winter term? Or, why can’t the spring and summer terms be consolidated into one term, which would allow the winter term to end later and allow for longer breaks? But again, those are completely arbitrary ideas, formed off the top of my head with little knowledge of how a large University actually functions. Though it would likely be a laughable Saturday Night Live skit, I’m confident that the University Board of Regents doesn’t sit around and hypothesize about the dates for our academic calendar.
For a school of the University’s size to operate smoothly, no decision the University of Michigan makes can truly be arbitrary. There has to be a definitive reason behind the dates of our academic calendar. Given that the only information the University publishes on the online schedule is the academic calendar for the next three years, there is clearly a pre-existing system. Instead of allowing the student body to wonder, and therefore conjure their own ideas as to what the schedule should be, the University should make its reasoning transparent. If there is in fact a method to the madness of our academic schedule, students and professors have every right to know.
Zack Grant is an LSA sophomore.