Today, it’s official. Our classes are over. But something else is just beginning — that wonderful gift we know as reading week.
We love reading period. At least, in theory we do. How could we not love a week to wind down after the end of classes and gear up for upcoming finals? But it does become hard to love reading period when poorly scheduled final projects and papers prevents either of those two things from happening.
The Blue Book sets out a number of recommendations regarding the scheduling of end of term work. Professors are supposed to administer a final during finals period or assign a suitable replacement, to be due no later than the last day of reading period. These guidelines would ideally result in a sensible schedule that had students finishing their classes this week, working on papers and final projects next week during the reading period, and then taking finals during finals week. So why do so few of our schedules resemble this? We find ourselves overwhelmed with final papers and projects due this week, our classes still ongoing. Or we have professors who have extended deadlines so far that we have four papers and four exams all squished into the last four days of finals period.
If a paper or project is to replace the final, it should not be due during the last week of class, before the course is even completed. To have so many papers all due the last week of class decreases the academic utility of those papers — not to mention students’ mental health and quality of life. It forces stressed students to struggle through, or skip entirely, their final few lectures. Rather than seeing each class to its end and and seeing the themes of the class tied together, students are already thinking way ahead, too worried about final papers and grades to concentrate on final classes.
According to the Blue Book, in creating the reading period, the faculty assumed that “students would use the reading period in their own way to consolidate and augment the work of the course.” Well, maybe we wouldn’t all spend the whole week consolidating and augmenting our semester. But it would be nice to have a few days to reflect back on a course in its entirety, or at least be able to have attended the last lecture, before turning in an assignment that is supposed to reflect what we have learned from the entire class.
For students who had many such final papers due this week, reading period itself becomes almost obsolete. Students gave up their Thanksgiving breaks to struggle through the many papers due just days after returning, and now have to stay on campus for a full two weeks with nothing to do before taking perhaps just one final.
In setting deadlines for end of term work, we urge professors to consider the spirit of reading week. Papers replacing finals should not be due during the last week of class, nor should they be pushed so late that they conflict with finals. We acknowledge that sometimes such extensions into finals week may work to students’ advantage, but it would be better if all professors simply followed the established regulations — or at least knew what they were, as many professors who have pleaded ignorance about official policy. Students would know what to expect up front, and would be less likely to have endless stretches of empty time or log jams of papers and finals in the waning days of December.
As college students, we know we might seem like the last people to talk about enforcing the rules, especially when it comes to our own work. But the seemingly arbitrary nature of deadlines as they exist now only make this hectic time of year even more stressful.