At the most recent faculty meeting on November 5, professors rejected a proposal known as “Option Seven,” which would lengthen Orientation by two days and start classes two days earlier, effectively cutting summer short by four days. Despite widespread student support and an endorsement from Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), many faculty members voiced concerns about the repercussions of an earlier start to the semester.
One common argument from faculty was that a shortened summer would cut into valuable research time for professors. Chair of the Classics Department Barbara Boyd said that summer research was an important factor in faculty opposition to the changes.
“I think it’s really important for students to realize that faculty are expected to be doing research whenever we’re not teaching. In the really crucial moments in our careers, like when we come up for tenure and promotion, our publications and research activity are every bit as important as teaching, and sometimes more important, in terms of how we’re evaluated,” she said.
Boyd added that Bowdoin’s academic culture makes the summer an even more important time for faculty to conduct research.
“Bowdoin has a reputation as a place where faculty are very involved with students, and that’s also a really important part of being a Bowdoin faculty member, so there isn’t a ton of time during the school year to do research. The summer is the one stretch of time that’s really significant,” she said.
However, BSG argued for the many benefits of the revised Orientation schedule. One important factor is that the revised schedule would have allowed for first years to arrive on the weekend rather than on a weekday.
“It’s kind of a trek for a lot of families, so more families might be able to bring their students up on a weekend,” said BSG Vice President for Student Affairs Sarah Levin ’13.
The proposed Orientation schedule would also have extended the Orientation program.
“A lot of people say that Orientation is too long, but I think the main complaint is that it’s actually too busy,” said BSG President Daniela Chediak ’13. “The new schedule would make Orientation into a weeklong program that’s less jam-packed.”
Additionally, the rejected schedule would have allowed for more time between Phase I and II for first-year students.
“Phase II is the most stressful aspect of Orientation, and the new schedule would give first years a little bit more time to meet with professors [between phases] and feel really confident in their schedule,” said Levin.
BSG argued that the many possible benefits of the change for the student body outweigh the concerns raised by faculty.
“It seems that four days from a 14-week period aren’t so huge as to negate the enormous gains that can be made by rescheduling things for first years and upperclassmen,” said Chediak.
Some faculty members said that the debate over changing the Orientation schedule should be part of a broader discussion of the entire fall semester calendar.
“I fully support the goal of moving to a Saturday start to Orientation, as well as beginning classes on Wednesday so students could try all their classes the first week” Professor of History and Asian Studies Rachel Sturman wrote in an email to the Orient. "The whole debate about the Orientation schedule seems to really be about Thanksgiving, however, and this leads me to think that the entire claendar should be evaluated as a whole, and not in this piecemeal fashion."
In a survey conducted last year, 94 percent of students indicated that they would support extending Thanksgiving break to a full week, provided that Fall Break was not shortened as well.
Option Seven could make extending Thanksgiving break more feasible, since the two class days added to the beginning of the year would make up for the lost Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
Levin said a longer Thanksgiving break would enable more students to travel home for the holiday.
“The changes would give students nine days of travel as opposed to the five that we have now, which means it would be more feasible for students to go home,” said Levin.
Many members of the student body agree.
“I live across the country, so it takes me a full day to travel home. It’s kind of a waste of both time and money if the break is only four days,” said May Kim ’16.
However, faculty noted that a longer Thanksgiving break was not presented as part of the proposal.
“Thanksgiving break and Orientation have not been linked in the conversation at all,” said Boyd.
Dean for Student Affairs Tim Foster agreed that the extended Thanksgiving break had not been part of the original proposal, but said, “Perhaps it should have been. I think student support for a full week at Thanksgiving and a two-day fall break is very compelling and worthy of faculty’s attention.”
According to Foster, it would only take faculty support to advance the issue.
“I believe, but I’m not sure about this, that it only takes a single faculty member to stand and propose a motion for faculty consideration. And given the way things are moving at some of our peer schools, I believe that this will happen in our lifetime,” said Foster.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article misrepresented the views of Professor of History and Asian Studies Rachel Sturman. The online version has been updated to correct this inaccuracy.