Students stressed about busy crowds and expensive airfares on Christmas Eve may have little reason to cheer next holiday season.
Despite the Columbia College Student Council’s recent proposal to change the academic calendar to end the semester earlier, adjusting the schedule may prove to be a bureaucratic challenge.
New York State law requires that any accredited institution must hold 14 weeks of class a semester, and Columbia’s current policy is to start the fall term the day after Labor Day. Because of this, the University has often been forced to finish exams very close to Christmas—especially when Labor Day is late.
In 2009, the calendar ended on Dec. 23, and according to the current academic calendars, the semester will also end on the same date in 2010 and 2011.
Since December, different student groups have protested the schedule, and now the CCSC and the Engineering Student Council are proposing alternative schedules—though it seems now they may not have much luck for the upcoming calendar year.
The University Senate Education Committee is currently reviewing the academic calendar, which it does every decade, with input from CCSC and ESC.
Any changes to the calendar must be proposed by the committee and may or may not be voted on by the full University Senate, according to University Senator and Education Committee member Alex Frouman, CC ’12.
Members of CCSC and ESC crafted and passed a proposal unanimously on Sunday to change the schedule so that classes start on the first Monday of September. According to the proposal, “The rationale for a change in the academic calendaring revolves around two central tenants: the difficulty of travel so close to Christmas Eve and the lack of study days that can ensue when Labor Day falls later in the year.”
Though students would be starting school a week early, they would have Labor Day off, three study days, and end on Dec. 19 at the latest. Although the council conceded that it is highly unlikely that changes will be made to the calendar for the upcoming fall semester, the proposal would eliminate the same problem in future years.
But because the proposal supports starting school before Labor Day, it will most likely be opposed by faculty with children in New York City schools, which start after Labor Day, Frouman said.
“You’re tied to the K-12 schedule, all of which assumes that you are on vacation the last two weeks of August,” University Senate Education Committee Co-Chair James Applegate said.
Other possible solutions are having exams in January after break, compressing the various holidays in the fall into an extended Thanksgiving break, or keeping the current schedule.
“Starting in August is generally popular among students,” Applegate said, but added, “Among faculty, it tends to be not a very popular option.”
Applegate said that this is also not a new debate. “We’ve done this before, we’ll do it again. ... This is something that probably has been dealt with ten times,” he said.
He predicted the proposal might not go very far: “I promise you the students will be heard and be taken seriously but I can’t promise you that they’ll get what you want.”
Frouman said he thought the current problem may stem from a lack of communication. “People on the committee have heard it [the debate] but a lot of faculty don’t understand necessarily where all the students are coming from,” he said.
In the past, students have tended to favor starting school earlier while faculty have favored having final exams after Winter Break, Applegate said. “What we currently do is nobody’s first choice and everybody’s second choice and that’s sort of why we did it,” he added.
CCSC Vice President of Policy Sarah Weiss, CC ’10, said that they are working to better communication. “We’re reaching out to individuals who sit on the education committee, faculty members, especially female faculty members with children who might be impacted by this,” she said.
Students in December also created a Facebook group called, “Petition to Change Columbia University Winter Break Calendar,“ which had 2,417 students, almost a quarter of all undergraduates, as of Feb. 4.
“It just makes for a difficult and more stressful exam period,” Austin Lawrence CC’10, said.
Sophie Hyson BC ’12, added, “I’m sure it really sucks for the foreign students and the people who want to go home for break and they end up getting home on Christmas, because it takes a while to travel and the airports this late are crazy.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the calendar must be voted on by the full senate, but in fact, the calendar proposed by the committee and may or may not be voted on by the full University Senate. Spectator regrets the error.