President Barry Mills has recommended that the College begin the spring semester after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day when planning future academic calendars.

Mills sent an email to the campus community last Thursday detailing the recommendation. With the holiday scheduled to fall during winter break for the next four years, Mills’ proposed change to the calendar would begin in 2020. 

Currently, the College begins the spring semester on the holiday three out of every seven years, falling on the final week of winter break in the other four.

Mills said in an interview with the Orient that he had been thinking about the change for a number of years. However, the political climate on campus played a role in the timing of his recommendation.

“As I was thinking about what we’ve seen over the last number of months, the feeling that people have towards Martin Luther King Jr. Day has really intensified and the day has taken on more than just being a national day of remembrance,” Mills said. “It’s a national day of service in a lot of ways.”

In a follow-up email to faculty and students, Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd reiterated the College’s policy regarding the holiday. Bowdoin’s course catalogue specifies that, as with major religious holidays, students are allowed to miss classes or exams for Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances.

This year, the College held several events for the holiday: a commemoration breakfast, a children’s event in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, two panels in a course taught by Consortium for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow in Government Cory Gooding, and a performance by civil rights activists and musicians Bernice Johnson Reagon and her daughter Toshi.

During the performance, Toshi playfully criticized the school for holding classes on the holiday, and called for a wider variety of programming for the holiday.

“A lot of holidays we have are so far off the mark from what we would like them to do, but this one has so much potential to bring up so many issues,” she said.

“I don’t know why you would bring students to school on MLK Day unless you were giving them the opportunity to express all of the different movements that are concerning them that they would like to give voice to,” she continued.

Ashley Bomboka ’16 was among the students who chose not to attend classes. She attended the breakfast, participated in a panel, and attended the concert.

“It was an educational experience—I’m learning a lot more about his work, his change over time, and the way that we’ve appropriated his life to fit our civil rights narrative,” she said. 
She added that her professors were “very supportive” of her decision not to attend class.
Bomboka said she supported the recommendation from Mills.

“It makes sense to honor what [King] did and where he pushed us to go as a country—how he was able to be a role model for so many other activists,” she said.

Some students felt that the change was overdue.

“I’m pretty excited about it. I think it took long enough for it to happen,” said Michelle Kruk ’16, who helped organize campus responses to the non-indictments of the officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases last semester.

“I’m disappointed that it’s not going to happen during my time here, because I think the College tends to do what’s easy a lot of the time,” she added. “The better alternative would have been to just have the day off this year.”

Most of Bowdoin’s NESCAC peers without a winter term are given the day off already, including Amherst, Connecticut College, Hamilton, Trinity and Tufts. Bates holds themed workshops in place of classes, while at Wesleyan the day is used for enrollment for the spring semester.

Mills acknowledged that the policies of other colleges factored into his decision.

“A whole lot of other schools have decided to start the day after,” he said. 

Ultimately, Bowdoin’s Calendar Committee will make the final decision.

“I decided not to declare this as some sort of edict, because the calendar is something that many people on the faculty and staff consider carefully, and any modifications to the calendar attract a lot of attention,” Mills said.

Mills said that while he would not support mandatory events in place of classes during the holiday, he did see the potential for College-organized activities on the holiday in lieu of classes.

“We sometimes forget that Martin Luther King Jr. Day has really been designated as a national day of service, so if everyone were back on campus and classes weren’t starting until the next day, one could see the McKeen Center organizing another Common Good Day where students reach out to the community,” he said.

The Calendar Committee will be meeting this spring to decide on future changes to the academic calendar.