Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one step closer to becoming an official holiday for students and faculty, since the Yale College Calender Committee approved a resolution yesterday that would cancel classes on MLK Day starting next year.
The calender committee, comprising administrators, faculty and students, was in part responding to increased student and faculty pressure for cancelling classes on that Monday. For committee’s recommendation to be instituted, faculty members present at an April meeting and the officers of the University all must agree to it.
Dean of administrative affairs and calender committee member John Meeske said if the recommendation is approved at the April faculty meeting, University officers will likely accept it.
“It’s not certain it’s going to be [passed] at all,” Meeske said. “At this point it’s a recommendation that’s been considered by the calendar committee and the Teaching and Learning Committee.”
Logistical concerns have been a main reason behind Yale’s policy of not cancelling classes in the past, administrators said. The holiday falls on a Monday early in the semester, resulting in a missed day of classes during shopping period.
To address these issues, the calender committee recommended Monday classes that would have been held on the holiday be held on the Friday preceding MLK Day. Students who want to shop Monday seminars would have the opportunity to do so the Friday before.
Because most classes are not held on Fridays, and discussion sections will probably not be meeting on a Friday so early in the semester, conflicts will be minimal, Meeske said.
Administrators will also consult graduate school deans about this proposal to ensure that the decision to hold Monday classes on Friday will not conflict with the schedules of faculty members who teach at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
“I hope it will work,” Meeske said. “I think people have wanted to do this for some time. We just haven’t figured out a way to do it.”
This year, for the first time, non-essential staff at Yale had MLK Day off.
Support to cancel classes has been escalating on campus this year with the formation of the MLK Day Coordinating Committee, a student group that has rallied behind this cause. Members of the committee organized a full day of activities for this year’s holiday, including a rally attended by about 150 students. The group also supported a resolution calling for the cancellation of classes, which the Yale College Council passed.
And earlier this year, a group of about 25 high-profile Yale professors sent a letter to all faculty urging the University to observe MLK Day in 2002.
Members of the MLK Day committee said they were pleased with the calendar committee’s resolution.
“I’m really excited about this decision,” MLK Day coordinating committee member Laurie Kennington ’01 said. “The calendar committee made the right decision in the eyes of Yale students and the community. I think it is a great move for Yale right now to recognize this movement that is responsible for many of us being here right now, because many of us have the civil rights movement to thank.”
MLK Day committee member Chiraag Bains ’03 said he was concerned about the outcome of the faculty and officer votes.
“I think it’s a good step and a sign of progress, but I hope the University follows through,” Bains said. “Clearly it’s heartening because the hard work of so many students went into it.”
Calendar committee member David Corson-Knowles ’03 said student support was key in achieving this step towards gaining the day off.
“I think the idea to celebrate MLK Day was largely student driven,” Corson-Knowles said. “Students put a lot of effort into speaking with faculty, planning a full day of activities and supporting the YCC resolution.”
Calendar committee member William Ralph ’02 said most members of the committee supported the recommendation to cancel classes on MLK Day — a federal holiday — but he is concerned that Yale may now have to consider other student concerns about holidays.
“Yale is now sending a message saying it takes holidays off when there is sufficient demand form students,” Ralph said. “So Yale should be prepared to respond if another group of students asks for a day off.”
Despite his concerns, Ralph said he is pleased with the calender committee’s decision.
Francisco Lopez ’02, a member of the MLK Day committee, said he hopes student support will continue to be a factor in determining the University’s MLK Day policy.
“I hope that the next round of debate takes this recommendation into consideration,” Lopez said. “We hope that Yale gives Martin Luther King Jr. the recognition he deserves on this campus.”