The University’s Calendar Committee is proposing to add four vacation days to the spring semester and shorten exam week in an effort to reduce student stress, the committee’s chair Prof. Jeff Doyle, plant biology, confirmed Wednesday.
Aside from adding a day off for Labor Day last year, the University has not made changes to its calendar since 1984, according to Doyle.
To separate long periods of instruction, the committee will request that the University make one of two possible adjustments to the calendar: One change would add a two-day break after President’s Day weekend and lengthen spring break by two days. The other would insert a week-long break coinciding with President’s Day in February and delay spring break. President’s Day is celebrated annually the third week of every February.
The committee may also shorten exam week by five days, as well as Senior Week — a week-long series of activities hosted before Commencement — from nine days to three days.
Last week, the committee shared its preliminary plans with senior staff, campus assemblies and deans. After hearing feedback from the Cornell community, the committee will submit its final recommendations to the Faculty Senate by the end of the semester, according to Doyle.
“We are open to feedback, but we want people to read the rationale behind our suggestions,” said Prof. Kate Walsh, hotel management, who is vice-chair of the committee.
Adding a second break in the spring should be “one of the [University’s] first priorities,” Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 said.
Committee members prefer adding a two-day break to the calendar, as many students “do not have the financial means to return home for a week in February,” Doyle said.
Additionally, a long weekend in the spring would also give graduate students an opportunity to “get away from campus to do extra research,” according to Chris Heckman, liaison for the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly to the calendar committee.
Supporters of the second option said it might be more favorable to faculty and staff whose children would otherwise be unsupervised throughout the week of President’s Day, as public schools typically have this week off. This alternative creates fewer problems with scheduling lab periods, University Registrar Cassie Dembosky said.Besides breaking up the spring semester, the committee — which is “very concerned with student stress” — is considering ways to reduce the number of back-to-back exams student take, according to Walsh.
Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett Health Services, said that the committee, which hopes to reduce stress caused by exam scheduling, is part of the University’s comprehensive approach to suicide prevention.
Since the 1980s, the registrar has used an “inefficient” algorithm based on “when classes met rather [than] students’ actual schedules” to determine exam dates, Doyle said. Under the proposed changes, exam schedules schedules would be organized around students’ schedules to reduce students’ risk of having back-to-back exams, according to Dembosky.
The committee also hopes to address concerns about the length of the 13-day exam period by condensing it into eight days, according to Doyle. Instead of beginning on a Wednesday and concluding the following Friday, exam week would span from a Monday to the following Tuesday.
While there will still be exams held on Saturday and Sunday, professors cannot hold exams on Thursday, which will be designated a “Mental Health Day,” according to Natalie Raps ’12, president of the Student Assembly.
“My feeling is that having a study day in the middle of the exam schedule will be helpful, but we won’t know until we try it out,” Hubbell said.
The committee recognized that weekend exams might interfere with religious observances. Yet Doyle emphasized that the revised system would reflect Cornell’s “non-denominational” status.
If adopted, the shorter exam schedule would add vacation days to the calendar — a change that would make adding an extra spring break feasible.
The committee is also vetting recommendations regarding commencement, Senior Week and staff holidays.
Moving commencement to an earlier date was a “non-starter, and because of that, commencement is our anchor for the entire calendar,” Doyle said.
“We would have loved to be able to give faculty and students a head start on internships, jobs and research for the summer, but we can’t,” he said.
There was less agreement in the committee on Senior Week, a topic that Dembosky said is hotly debated among seniors and staff. Senior Week is the period between the end of spring term exams and commencement, during which graduating seniors enjoy a number of activities hosted by student volunteers.
While most seniors prefer having a long Senior Week as their final sendoff from the University, Dembosky said that many faculty members oppose lengthening Senior Week, as they believe that it encourages “excessive student drinking.”
The committee recommends shortening Senior Week to “address concerns for student safety,” she said.
The registrar’s new algorithm for determining exam schedules would attempt to ensure that seniors do not have exams on the final Monday and Tuesday of exam week — thereby creating a “de facto” Senior Week, according to the committee’s proposal.
Raps said that although she was initially hesitant about shortening Senior Week, she now supports the committee’s recommendation.
“At first I was worried that if Senior Week were shortened, we would be crushing so many activities into such a short amount of time that we would graduate without making the most out of our final days here,” Raps said. “But then I realized this wouldn’t really be a concern, since seniors won’t have exams that week.”
Another advantage to shortening Senior Week, Raps said, is that “non-seniors will be around, so seniors will really be able to make the most out of the week.”
The committee — which will submit its proposals to the Faculty Senate for approval — is not involved in implementing the calendar modifications. Doyle predicts that proposals approved by the Faculty Senate will go into effect gradually.