The Yale faculty voted yesterday to send the Yale College Calendar Committee back to the drawing board to create a new proposal for University-wide observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
At a faculty meeting, the approximately 50 faculty members present decided against the committee’s proposal to cancel classes the Monday of MLK Day and move them to the preceding Friday, saying such a plan would be too disruptive to the academic calendar. The calendar committee will rethink the issue and present additional proposals at the May faculty meeting.
At Tuesday’s open forum with students, Yale President Richard Levin said he supported the calendar committee’s resolution to cancel classes for MLK Day starting next year.
But both the officers of the University and faculty members must support the resolution for it to pass. While most faculty agreed it would be nice for Yale to cancel classes on MLK Day, the debate centered more on the logistics of observing the holiday.
“The discussion was not about whether we should have classes on MLK Day,” calendar committee member and Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske said. “It really focused on academic issues. A number of people were just very concerned about having a complete 13 weeks of classes.”
One of the faculty’s main concerns was that the current proposal would cause Yale to lose a day of instruction in the spring semester. Because the Monday classes would be shifted to the Friday before MLK Day, classes originally scheduled for that Friday would be cancelled.
Meeske said some faculty were concerned that Friday is not a free day for all classes. Many language classes, for instance, meet on that day.
Professor Leslie Brisman, who advocates a full 13-week schedule for both semesters, said yesterday’s discussion centered on academic instruction and not the validity of MLK Day.
“The outcome of the meeting was that we need to think more carefully about how to do both,” Brisman said. “What initially might have been a question of setting one group of people against another group of people turned into a consensus and a desire to do something that will allow for the observance of MLK Day as well as preserve academic integrity.”
The additional proposals that the calendar committee will now create will attempt to provide an extra day of classes to compensate for the missed Monday.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said he thinks most faculty are supportive of the holiday and simply want more options other than missing class one day.
“My sense of it was that people understand the significance of the holiday, and the faculty is obviously highly aware of the significance of other things, especially of the integrity of the teaching program,” Brodhead said.
Calendar committee member David Corson-Knowles ’03 said faculty should consider student sentiment when making these decisions.
“Seeing how important MLK Day is and considering how much learning at Yale goes on outside of the classroom, it certainly doesn’t weaken the academic experience to miss MLK Day. It makes the community stronger,” Corson-Knowles said. “MLK Day is on the calendar proposal because of student support.”
Members of the MLK Day Coordinating Committee, a coalition of students, began to advocate for the cancellation of classes this year. They planned a full day of events on the holiday and encouraged faculty to cancel classes for the observance of the day.
John K. Johnson ’03, one of the leaders of the coordinating committee, said he was frustrated by the results at this meeting.
“The sad thing is I’m not surprised,” Johnson said. “I expected every obstacle that could be put against this to be used. The people who are advocating for this need to be more persistent.”
Some faculty have also petitioned for the cancellation of MLK Day classes.
Bruce Haynes, director of undergraduate studies for African American studies, said he was disappointed with the outcome of the meeting. He said professors should recognize the importance of the holiday.
“This is a national holiday, not a religious holiday, so it’s different than other federal holidays,” Haynes said. “I think most faculty think it is more important to have students in their classes than taking part in this national event that is trying to fulfill the promise of American democracy.”
Meeske said he hopes the issue will be settled soon.
“I certainly thought things would be settled today, and they weren’t,” Meeske said.