On Monday, President Richard C. Levin and Dean Mary Miller announced the adoption of a number of substantial changes to the Yale College Academic Calendar, which will take effect for the 2012-’13 academic year. Although the old schedule was deeply flawed, and many of the changes are welcome, the administration overstepped by removing four days from the reading and finals period of each semester and by completely neglecting to solicit feedback from the group most affected by these changes — the student body.
The newly adopted schedule’s greatest strength is the addition of a five-day break in the middle of the fall semester. As Associate Dean John Meeske, one of the three administrators charged with reexamining Yale’s current Academic Calendar, correctly noted in an article published in the News in October (“Calendar may change, add break,” Oct. 29, 2010), and as Levin and Miller observe in their announcement, attending classes for over 11 straight weeks during the fall semester is challenging and raises serious mental health concerns. Instituting a fall break would, therefore, give students an opportunity to catch up on work, visit their families and recover from the stresses of the first half of the semester. However, removing four days from reading week and finals period to compensate for the added break in the middle of the fall semester (and a slightly longer winter break) will undoubtedly counteract many of the benefits that the administration claims a fall break would yield.
In their announcement, Levin and Miller justify the shortening of reading and finals period, in part, by observing that the length of Yale College’s reading period is “longer than that of most other colleges that have exams before winter recess.” However, a slightly deeper analysis of the reading and finals period of other Ivy League schools — a good, but admittedly not perfect, group for comparison — indicates that the issue is not nearly as clear-cut as Levin and Miller claim.
In absolute terms, Yale currently has the third longest reading period in the Ivy League, behind only Princeton — where students take their exams after break — and Harvard. But as any student who has survived a semester at Yale knows, regardless of the technicalities of academic regulation, the boundaries between reading period and finals week are often amorphous, with paper writing and exam studying occurring throughout both. Furthermore, Yale is relatively unique among Ivy League colleges in requiring, on average, four and a half credits per semester for graduation, rather than the more typical four credits. Perhaps, then, a better metric would consider not only the length of reading period, but also the length of finals period and the number of credits required for graduation.
Currently Yale has the fourth longest per-credit reading/finals period in the Ivy League (which is calculated by dividing the total number of combined days in the reading and finals periods by the average number of credits needed each semester for graduation). However, beginning in the 2012-’13 academic year, when the adopted changes take effect, only Columbia will have a shorter per-credit reading/finals period than Yale. This brief analysis suggests that the administration may have overstepped by cutting reading and finals period by over 25 percent. And this significantly shorter reading and finals period will counteract many of the gains from the new fall break by affording students less time to catch up on work and recover from the stress of a long semester before tackling final papers and exams.
But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the new schedule is that these changes were adopted without any significant input from Yale students. Although Levin and Miller solicited “advice and feedback … from the University Calendar Committee, faculty members, and numerous administrators around campus,” and while the 30 members of the Yale College Council endorsed the new schedule, neither the administration nor the YCC sought the opinions of the group that will be most affected by these changes — the broader student body. At the very least, the administration should have held open forums to discuss the pros and cons of the new schedule, and the YCC should have distributed surveys to ensure that their views reflected those of the students whose opinions they were elected to represent.
While the current schedule is flawed and the University’s intentions are undoubtedly well-meaning, the new schedule, which was adopted without any meaningful input from the student body, will fail to accomplish one of its major goals: to relieve some of the stress of a lengthy fall semester. By removing four days from the reading and finals periods of both semesters to compensate for the addition of a fall break, the new schedule will make the end-of-semester crunch that much more stressful.
Sam Telzak is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College.