After the Faculty Senate voted March 9 to “strongly discourage” faculty from assigning students homework over academic breaks, several professors said they pushed back assignments and altered their syllabi to reduce students’ workload over spring break. Many students, though, said they still struggled with work over the vacation.
Prof. Bruce Levitt, theatre, chair of the Educational Policy Committee, said that the resolution was an effort to address the issue of stress and student workload. However, since the resolution did not include a mandate, many students still complained of onerous workloads during their vacations.
“I had a couple of big assignments due the Monday I returned from break,” Beth Weed ’14 said. “I spent a large part of my vacation on assignments and, in all honesty, it was really frustrating.”
Levitt, who helped draft the resolution, said that the Dean of Faculty sent an email reminding faculty of the resolution. As of now, it is too soon to do a follow-up on its efficacy, Levitt said.
Ben Itzkowitz ’14 said his professors did not seem to abide by the resolution and expressed his frustration with the amount of work he had over break.
“I didn’t know about the resolution, but I did hear people informally talking about it in a couple of my classes,” Itzkowitz said. “My teacher never informed us of the resolution and assigned us a book to read over break. But she didn’t assign it early enough in advance that I could have planned ahead.”
Some professors, however, did adhere to the Faculty Senate’s recommendation. They said they hoped to reduce stress on students by shortening or postponing assignments.
“Because of the resolution, I delayed until after break the posting of an assignment I had previously planned to post shortly before break. This also necessitated shortening the assignment a bit,” said Prof. Sheri Johnson, law. “I hope that the University will continue to explore what is useful in ameliorating stress and in identifying students suffering from desperation or depression.”
Johnson, who teaches only one undergraduate course, said she decided to abide by the resolution in deference to faculty who have more experience with “the pressures faced by undergraduates.”
Prof. Ziad Fahmy, Near Eastern studies, said that his awareness of the pressures facing undergraduates contributed to his decision to postpone an exam scheduled for the day after break. While Fahmy noted his decision was not directly prompted by the resolution, he said he understands how much stress students are currently under.
“I remember being an undergrad and the stress that goes along with it. Students are working hard and they certainly deserve a break,” Fahmy said. “For faculty members, it is hard to understand because we tend to work during breaks, so it goes over our heads sometimes.”
Students also voiced their approval of the Faculty Senate’s decision. Student Assembly Rep. Adam Gitlin ’13, vice president of internal operations, said that the S.A. is in full support of the Faculty Senate’s objective.
“We are applauding what the Faculty Senate did and completely agree with their decision. The S.A. passed resolution 67, which stressed the importance of academic breaks, which are needed due to the rigorous nature of Cornell,” Gitlin said. “The S.A. resolution shows how this message is not only coming from the Faculty Senate but also from the voice of the students.”
In addition to supporting the Faculty Senate’s declaration, the S.A.’s resolution asks Dean of Faculty William Fry to send reminders of the resolution to faculty before any academic break.