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Friday, May 9, 2014

Reading Daze...

Each year, those of us on the calendar committee determine and confirm the tentative University schedule for the subsequent five years. These decisions involve assessing the proximity of December graduation to Christmas, looking at the best place to start the spring, and making sure the local school system spring breaks match ours (we do actually do this).

Additionally, we schedule the two important reading days for students to have, ostensibly, to prepare for their final exams. In the fall and the spring, these days are often before or after a weekend, essentially giving students four consecutive days to study and possibly start packing up some of the items in their dorm rooms. So, many do what any self-respecting 18-22 year-old college student would do. They head to the beach with their friends.
A reading day tradition:
Midnight Breakfast.

Yes, organizations and individuals get away and blow off steam and celebrate the end of the semester. The work-hard, play-hard balance requires it. Students deserve to pamper themselves a bit with sun, sand, and suds. Those who don't, often use the time to sleep. (And of course, I know: Many of our students do use the time - or some of it - to study for finals.)

I don't have an issue with this per se. It does seem odd that we call these reading days. When I was in college I believe I used my "reading days" to do all of the social things I described above. I am in a glass house. My glass house was in Wisconsin and the Lake Michigan beach was less alluring than the Gulf of Mexico.But I played hard anyways.

In the last decade or two - I have lost track - some schools decided that a way to broadly curb alcohol abuse and the detrimental effects (such as people hurting themselves and each other or flunking out) during the year was to make sure there were early morning classes on Thursday and Friday. I think we have those anyways, so that was never a strategy by this institution. The idea, however, is for schools to socially un-engineer some things and not enable student bad behavior. Many of us in college administration spend great energy on trying to figure out ways to protect students from themselves. The students are winning, by the way.

What if we applied similar strategies, though, to reading days? We could, say, consistently schedule reading days alternatively, such as on a Tuesday and Thursday. This would not extend the calendar, simply alter where the reading days fall. From an academic preparation standpoint, this makes sense. It spreads out exams, so that they don't cluster so close together on back-to-back days. Students would probably make better use of their study time once they are in an academic groove, versus stopping class, wasting time, and then starting exams.I presume there could be similar advantages for the faculty.

I suppose schedule changing could just be seen as a way to stop students from having fun. Perhaps subconsciously, as a university official, and as a parent of college students, I wonder why I would support student four-day mini-vacays. I am working, in part (and in both my staff/parent roles), for them to grow, develop, learn, and mature. I'm not sure how "them" having all the fun meshes with any of that. (What's next for me: I start yelling at neighborhood kids to get off my lawn?)

In an age when college costs are significant, and when institutions are seen as refuges for the privileged, does this scheduling windfall for students make sense any more? Or does it reinforce negative stereotypes? Didn't students just have spring break? It might be time to at least start a dialogue on this topic in the calendar committee. I wonder how others feel (and I bet students and parents don't agree). Weigh in on the poll, upper-right and let's see. Or send in your comments.

In truth, reading days are among my favorite of the year. I have few meetings and the campus is quiet so I can get a lot of work done. And maybe I can even pull up some articles on college student development I have been saving. For me, and many of my colleagues, it can be a perfect time. For reading.

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