Why Yale labors on Labor Day

While workers around the country enjoy time off this Labor Day, Yale undergraduates will grab their books and head to class.

In an effort to avoid disruptions to the fall academic calendar, Yale College has for many years held classes on Labor Day when it falls on the fifth, sixth or seventh of September, Associate Dean for Physical Resources & Planning John Meeske said. While other schools, including Princeton and Harvard universities, will not hold class Monday, University administrators maintain that the benefits of a longer Thanksgiving break and spring recess, as well as a less convoluted academic calendar, outweigh any logistical or patriotic concerns.

“Most years we start classes after Labor Day but when it falls so late, there really is no alternative,” Meeske said. “Do you honor the holiday or not? In this case, we feel the disadvantages [of honoring the holiday] outweigh the advantages.”

At the same time, Meeske said, holding classes on Labor Day, which is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers, has some drawbacks. Many departmental offices are closed, and students sometimes find themselves locked out of classroom doors that custodial workers — most of whom do not work on Labor Day — would normally open before the first class. The University pays overtime for the few dining and custodial staff who work Monday.

“Labor Day poses no problem for workers,” said English professor Leslie Brisman, a member of the committee that draws up the academic calendar, in an e-mail message. “The University functions well on reduced clerical and cafeteria staff, and everyone who wants to take the day off can, while those who decide to work earn a hefty bonus.”

Some of Yale’s graduate schools, including the Law School and School of Architecture, do cancel classes on Labor Day. But even before Yale adopted the basis for its current calendar in the 1970s, the College did not observe most federal holidays. In the early 1980s, Yale experimented with giving Labor Day off but quickly returned to the traditional calendar.

In 2001, the University bowed to student pressure and canceled classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Since then, the University has adopted a more complex spring academic calendar in which Monday classes meet once on a Friday and an extra day of class is added before reading period.

One student said in an interview that she considers this inconsistency hypocritical.

“I generally like Yale’s policy of ‘while we’re here, do what we’re here to do,’ ” Marian Holmes-Turnbull ’12 said. “But I think given the other holidays we have off, omitting Labor Day shows a disrespect for what it stands for.”

Because Martin Luther King Day, unlike Labor Day, falls after a week of classes rather than during the first week of classes, Meeske said, canceling classes then is less disruptive to the term.

Because classes have not been held on Labor Day since 2004, some students and faculty were unaware of the policy until they received an e-mail last week.

Claire Bowern, an assistant professor of linguistics currently on leave, said she was surprised to hear that classes would be held and added that faculty with young children might have difficulties finding childcare Monday.

But for five students interviewed, longer vacations down the road are worth sitting in class Monday.

“Our Thanksgiving holiday is unbelievable,” David Manners-Weber ’10 said. “If that is the price we pay I would give up an extra day on our second day of classes.”

While Commons Dining Hall will be closed Monday, the residential college dining halls will be open. In the spirit of the holiday, Provost Peter Salovey will host a barbecue for new faculty — though they must return to work afterward.

Comments

  • Streever

    Yale’s choice to ignore this holiday is actually a bit of a bummer–Yale students are unavailable to attend the bbqs & picnics that the New Haven community plans. They also may be unable to enter the Labor Day Road Race–

  • George Patsourakos

    I am surprised that Yale holds classes on Labor Day.

    Would Yale hold classes on other holidays, such as Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, or Christmas?

    Yale needs to observe Labor Day as a holiday — with no classes scheduled — in order to show the respect to American workers that they deserve.

  • MedCrew

    Yale holds graduation on Memorial Day, that apparently doesn’t mean much to them either. And the University is filled with researchers and grad students on the other holidays so it’s never really closed. And though the students are gone for holiday, the workers are still here- just like any other business. It’s like Disney, the students are the guests and the staff and workers are the cast members. Just wish I had a Yale monorail uniform…..

  • 0y8

    Of course Yale holds classes on Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, President’s Day… the only holiday that matters, apparently, is MLK. Thanks Yale for that lesson on political correctness.