Yalies like to learn and do well, but yesterday the Yale administration stood in the way.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller announced that starting next school year, reading period will be one day longer. By failing to restore reading period to its original length, administrators tell students: No, you must study less than prior generations of Yalies.
What is wrong with this situation?
Two years ago, the Yale administration cut reading and exam period from 15 to 11 days. With this change, the incidence of deferred exams has risen sharply as more students face three exams within 24 hours. In response to YCC surveys, hundreds of students have written that the shortened reading period causes unprecedented anxiety and prevents them from performing their best on final exams and papers.
A simple comparison reveals that students at other top universities have more time to study than students at Yale. The combined length of reading and exam periods is 16 days at Harvard, where students must earn 32 credits to graduate. Even at Brown, where students need only 30 credits, the reading and exam periods total 14 days. At Yale, students earn 36 credits but have only 11 — and now 12 — days to complete exams and final projects.
As YCC academics director, I presented the students’ case to the administration. For several months I met frequently with administrators to weigh competing scheduling priorities and project calendar scenarios multiple years forward. We sought a mutually acceptable solution. I explained that 64 percent of students, including a majority of students in each class year and academic discipline, dislike the cutback and would prefer going back to a full reading period — even if it meant fewer days for winter and summer break. Eventually, we appeared to have agreed to restore a majority of the original reading period.
However, certain administrators decided to oppose any change to the academic calendar. In last minute lobbying efforts, I reached out to officers of Yale University and made a final appeal: “Yale College students are scholars first; they want time to study and they need time to study. Why should the University take that away to send them on longer winter and summer breaks?”
The administration ultimately chose to add back a token one day per semester. Although the YCC has advocated a complete restoration of reading period, I supported this half measure because I believe that any increase in reading period is better than no increase.
So why did the administration choose not to completely restore our time to study?
In the process of considering calendar complexities, a number of concerns were voiced. Among these were the expenses that would be incurred by feeding and housing students for a longer period of time. However, precedent suggests that this was not a problem before reading period was cut by four days in each semester. More importantly, saving money is a weak rationale for undermining the quality of life and academic standards at Yale.
Another concern raised was that fully restoring reading and exam period in the fall semester would shorten the number of days between terms, and as a result, professors would not have enough time to grade final exams and papers. Restoring reading period to its previous length would have reduced the number of days between the two terms from 26 to 22. Between 1997 and 2012, the average number of days between terms was 22. I suggested that professors would reject the administration’s concern that 22 days between terms wouldn’t be long enough. In fact, of 23 faculty members surveyed by one administrator, only three thought that shortening reading period was a good change. Our professors are allies in our quest to learn.
Some other competing priorities were ensuring that students would be able to return home in time for Christmas, making sure that there was ample breathing room between the end of spring semester and commencement and protecting the length of summer break, a concern of faculty members engaged in summer projects. But these priorities could have been respected while also restoring reading period.
I hope that University officials will continue moving in the right direction as they consider other YCC academic proposals, such as standardizing the preregistration process and implementing academic minors. The addition of one day to reading period is a positive step, and YCC will keep pushing to promote a calendar structure that facilitates academic success and emphasizes well-being.
David Lawrence is a junior in Calhoun College and the Yale College Council Academics Director. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .