Last Friday, as campus began to empty for fall break, faculty members convened in Mills Hall, where they debated the topic of another break: Thanksgiving.
The meeting, which was moderated by Associate Professor of Government Jeffrey Selinger, was the second of the academic year and featured conversations about several proposed changes ranging from the adoption of a week-long Thanksgiving break to academic policies and procedures revisions.
Speaking on behalf of the Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA), Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Danielle Dube presented potential modifications to the academic calendar that would allow the College to implement a week-long Thanksgiving break—a possibility that has remained a topic of discussion among faculty after the extension of the break by two days in 2021.
Now, the break spans from Wednesday to Sunday of the week of Thanksgiving; a possible revision of the break would also grant Monday and Tuesday off, transforming the current five-day break into a ten-day-long break. While there has been considerable interest in pursuing a permanent change, the question of how to account for the two lost days of instruction has not been resolved.
The GFA’s five alternatives to the status quo aim to address the problem of missed instruction days. The first option calls for beginning the fall semester one day earlier and shortening the final examination period by one day, but this option necessitates the addition of a nighttime final exam block (7:00 to 10:00 p.m.) and a reading period split by a day of classes. The second option similarly requires that courses begin a day earlier and instead eliminates one day of fall break, leaving the final examination period untouched. The third possibility would also require courses to begin a day earlier and would extend the fall semester by one day but also requires a split reading period. The fourth option, like the previous three, entails starting courses one day earlier but removes one day of reading period, resulting in a both split and shortened reading period. The final alternative proposes beginning instruction two days earlier and conducting convocation and advising activities on the Sunday before classes; this option would leave the majority of the academic calendar unchanged.
A decision to prolong Thanksgiving break would constitute more than a superfluous increase of time off. As Dube noted, such a change would address equity concerns for students for whom travel to and from campus is burdensome and could alleviate stress.
“A longer break would provide immediate relief from academic pressures and would better serve our more diverse student body, who come from all over the country and world and have uneven access to financial resources,” Dube said.
The issue will come to a formal vote at December’s faculty meeting, where faculty will first decide whether to maintain the status quo or extend Thanksgiving break. If faculty vote to adopt a week-long break, they will then use a ranked-choice voting system to determine the preferred option of the GFA’s alternatives. The result of the faculty vote will not conclusively decide the future of Thanksgiving break but will instead guide President Safa Zaki, who makes the final decision.
Last Friday’s meeting also addressed another set of possible changes, with Associate Dean for Curriculum Dallas Denery introducing draft proposals concerning academic policy in anticipation of the College’s transition to Workday. Spanning from standardizing the College’s double-counting policy to reexamining transfer credit practices, the proposed revisions seek to address inconsistencies or inadequacies in the College’s academic policies.
Denery emphasized the importance of discussing and implementing these changes before the College completes its transition to Workday.
“The reason we need to do this so quickly is because these are things that get built into the [Workday] system,” Denery said. “The system is not going to make us determine transfer credit policy. We decide that on our own. But we do build it into the system, and once it’s in the system, we can’t change it for a while.”
The proposed policy changes are currently open to faculty feedback and will be introduced as formal motions at a future meeting.
The next faculty meeting will take place on November 3 in Mills Hall.