For a full-time, undergraduate student at a liberal arts institution, there will probably always be some degree of stress associated with academic life. But this year, many have been asking: how can the college alter its practices to help reduce unnecessary stress?
One proposed solution, of which Professor of Mathematics Dennis Schneider is a major proponent, is to overhaul the manner in which finals are scheduled and add more reading days.
“I’ve argued for probably close to 40 years that this finals schedule was bad,” Schneider said. “The fundamental principle is that you can’t ask students to take finals really seriously if you don’t give them a chance to do that.”
Schneider, who also chairs the Student Life Committee (SLC), has made this a major agenda item for the committee this term. He explained that given the 10-week term, most courses are busy covering new material right up until the finals period, and students need “time to digest” that material.
Schneider also pointed out the time constraint placed on faculty members to get grading finished and how it “might lead the faculty to not give the same kind of exam or paper with the same kind of rigor that they might give if they had more time to grade it.”
Schneider’s original proposals included four full days of finals with either a reading day in the middle of the term or two reading days at the end.
Dean of Students and chair of the Executive Committee (ExComm) Larry Breitborde explained that there has been “strong interest” on the committee for revising the finals schedule and adding extra reading days. ExComm sets the academic calendar two years in advance, so these proposed changes would apply to the 2012-2013 academic year.
ExComm’s major proposal would entail one-and-a-half reading days at the end of the term and three-and-a-half days for finals. In Breitborde’s personal view, the extra half of a reading day is probably not sufficient, but that there is a positive sense that “we should at least try some other things and see what happens.”
During the SLC meeting Tuesday, Schneider expressed his opinion that SLC has not had enough input in the ExComm discussions; he will try to attend the ExComm meeting next week.
Breitborde also addressed the concern that students may not use the extra time to study. Personally, he sees this as a choice for students to make.
“I think we create opportunities at this college,” Breitborde said. “If students take advantage of them, that’s fine. If they don’t, they’ve made a mistake. But you’re free to make a mistake.”
Breitborde said that this discussion came up in ExComm as they were discussing Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser’s proposal to reduce the number of credits required for graduation. Both have the expressed goal of reducing student and teacher stress, but Kasser does not necessarily see changing the calendar as a viable alternative.
“I am glad that SLC and Exec are considering adding another reading day to the calendar, but I do not believe that doing so would effectively relieve the various problems that my proposal considered,” Kasser said in an email.
These potential changes were also run by the Student Senate General Assembly. As Senate President senior Sam Claypool and Communications Officer senior Chris Bugajski reported to SLC this week, the general consensus was that they would prefer three days of finals with a midterm reading day and two reading days at the end of the term.
But for all the deliberation about how many reading days and finals days should be included and how finals will be scheduled, Dean of Students Debbie Southern pointed out in SLC that the start and end dates affect certain programs on campus, and this should be taken into consideration.
“One of my frustrations over the last 10 years has been Executive Committee deciding on the schedule, and in my world, orientation is an issue,” Southern said. “And no one really asks. Just out of nowhere you find out something’s happened. So this time, not just me, but others said, ‘Let’s make sure we talk to people to see what the implications are for starting on a Wednesday instead of a Saturday.’”
It is expected that a decision will come from Executive Committee Monday during its last meeting of the year.