Culminating a rare, semester-long push by both students and faculty for University-wide observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Yale College faculty approved a proposal to cancel classes for Martin Luther King Jr. Day at their May 3 meeting.
The proposal that passed will move classes that fall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to the Friday prior to the Monday holiday. The classes originally scheduled for that Friday will now be held the first Monday of Reading Week in order to aviod missing a day of instruction. Because of this change to Reading Week, exams will start one day later than they now do.
At their contentious April meeting, faculty members instructed the Yale College Calendar Committee to amend a slightly different proposal, which would have caused one day of instruction to be lost. The approximately 70 faculty members at the most recent meeting voted on four alternative options for canceling classes on the holiday and settled on a final proposal.
The officers of the University must approve the change for it to take effect, but Dean of Administrative Affairs and calendar committee member John Meeske said they will likely rubber-stamp the decision.
“My guess is that they would probably not want to jump in the fray and change things,” Meeske said.
The MLK Day Coordinating Committee, a student group that formed this year, began campaigning for the cancellation of classes by planning for this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day a full schedule of events that they called a “Day-On.” The “Day-On” included a protest, which drew nearly 150 people, as well as University-wide discussions and a talent show. The Yale College Council also passed a resolution supporting the cancellation of classes.
This year was also the first year all non-essential staff had the day off.
In addition to students, many professors, such as African American Studies department chair Hazel Carby, have also supported the cancellation of classes. Carby wrote a letter to the University signed by various faculty who supported the official celebration of the holiday.
Following this action, the calendar committee devised ways to accommodate the holiday and presented their original proposal to faculty in April.
With that plan, Monday’s classes would have met on the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But unlike with the current plan, the committee did not account for classes that would be missed on that Friday. Professors emphasized that many classes meet on Fridays, such as foreign languages, and therefore it was not appropriate to hold Monday’s classes on Friday.
The new proposal resolves that concern by moving Friday’s classes to Reading Week.
Meeske said the support for the cancellation of classes was widespread among the many faculty members in attendance at last week’s meeting.
“It was not unanimous but it was not close,” Meeske said.
In a letter to students, assistant dean and director of the Afro-American Cultural Center Pamela George wrote that the large amount of student and faculty support impressed her.
“I must say I was proud of Yale faculty today and very proud of the students,” George wrote. “Were it not for all of you this decision could not have been realized.”
John Johnson ’03, co-coordinator of the MLK Day Coordinating Committee, said students will learn on the holiday even though classes are to be canceled.
“This is a stepping stone in the campaign to properly honor the civil rights struggle and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. here at Yale,” Johnson said. “Though the faculty voted to have the day off from classes, students will still be educated on issues of civil rights and economic disparity at the various activities that will occur.”
Another main argument against canceling classes for MLK Day was that it shows preference for one federal holiday over another and might lead Yale to cancel classes for other holidays as a result.
Meeske said that although he does not foresee any major push to observe more holidays in the future, it is a possibility.
“I personally am not too concerned about it because I think if we got a groundswell of student or faculty support for any other holiday, we would consider it, but we have not had that in the past,” Meeske said. “It’s conceivable that this decision will spark something.”