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  October 7, 2002

Calendar Proposal Debated in University Senate
By Richard Veilleux

Members of the University Senate last Monday debated the details of a proposal to change the University's academic calendar, arguing that a shorter winter break would interfere with research, recitals, writing, and lab preparations.

A vote on the proposal, however, did not make it to the floor of the nearly 100-member body. And, although most of the comments were in opposition to details of the proposal, Senators defeated every amendment brought to the floor. Discussions will continue Oct. 21, during the next regularly scheduled Senate meeting.

The proposed revision would create two nearly identical 14-week semesters, with all classes held Monday through Friday. It would eliminate so-called "virtual days" (those that run according to the schedule of a different day of the week); extend Thanksgiving break to a full week; and end each semester a couple of weeks earlier than the current schedule.

It proposes starting classes on the Monday before Labor Day, and ending exams in mid-December. Depending on the year, semester break would be between three and 11 days shorter than currently, with Christmas and New Year's Day falling roughly in the middle. The spring semester would begin in mid-January, include a week-long spring break, and conclude with final exams in early May.

There would be a break in the fall semester for Labor Day and one in the spring for Martin Luther King's birthday. Both semesters would include two reading days before exams.

Proponents of the proposal say that, with a longer summer break, students could get a jump on the search for summer jobs and internships, faculty would have more time for research, and departments would be able to offer more summer conferences. They also note that, by ending the fall semester earlier, the University would be able to convene winter Commencement Exercises, accommodating the estimated 30 percent of each year's graduating class who finish their work in December.

During the Senate meeting, Philip Mannheim, a professor of physics, introduced an amendment that would guarantee a five-week winter break. Nearly an hour of debate followed, with many faculty, particularly in the sciences, saying a shorter semester break would interfere with their research and make it impossible to convert laboratories in time for spring semester.

Robert Miller, a professor of music, said the current break is vital for students and faculty to prepare for performances in early spring; and Carol Polifroni, an associate professor of nursing, said nursing students use the break to work in area hospitals, serving as replacements for staff on vacation.

Despite these arguments, the amendment failed on a voice vote. An amendment to guarantee a four-week break also failed.

Further discussion ensued regarding the proposed calendar's call for Saturday to serve as the make-up day for classes missed due to Labor Day and Martin Luther King Day. Arnold Dashefsky, a professor of sociology, said the plan was a disservice to Jewish students observing the Sabbath, and suggested Sunday as a make-up day. Stuart Sidney, professor of mathematics, suggested allowing classes to be held on the two holidays. Both motions were defeated.

As the meeting wound down, a consensus appeared to be developing that, in those years, the University would observe the holidays and not offer make-up classes for those missed. Senators said classes that are offered two or three times a week would lose little by missing one day, and labs offered only on Mondays could be completed in 13 weeks instead of 14.

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