Explanation of Decision to Not Recommend Changes to Academic Calendar Policy

May 1, 2006

During the 2005-2006 academic year, the Academic Policies Committee of the Faculty Senate investigated possible changes to academic calendar policy. This investigation was in large part inspired by the Student Senate's desire to add more reading days to the academic calendar.

It was immediately obvious that it would not be easy to add reading days unless the semesters started earlier. So we considered three proposals: one to start the fall semester about one half week earlier, one to start the spring semester about one half week earlier, and one to have classes on Labor Day and have a two day break in October instead of continuing with the current practice of taking Labor Day Monday off, taking Columbus Day Monday off, and having Monday classes meet on the Tuesday after Columbus Day.

After calling for input about these three proposals, it was found that there was very strong opposition to the proposal involving Labor Day. Specifically, in addition to some faculty members thinking that it would be a bad practice to have classes on Labor Day, the Staff Senate strongly objected to this proposal since it would mean that many of them would have to give up the Labor Day holiday and work instead. A key objection from the Staff Senate was that many workers rely on child care centers to take care of their children while they are at work and these child care centers would not be open on Labor Day.

The possibility of having classes with only a relatively small numer of essential staff members working was briefly considered, but the provost clearly stated that he felt that if classes were held on Labor Day, university offices should be open to assist students, and that it was not practical to try to have classes with only relatively few staff members working. It was suggested that perhaps our staff could use a system like they use at Virginia Tech where staff members who choose to work on Labor Day can take another day off instead, but our Staff Senate strongly objected to this, claiming that such a policy here could lead to problems. So, the Academic Policies Committee decided to not pursure the Labor Day proposal, but still let the Faculty Senate vote to determine if the semesters should start about one half week earlier in order to allow for a longer reading day period.

In the three hours just prior to the Senate meeting at which votes on the proposals concerning the semester starting times would occur, some science faculty members pointed out that starting the fall and spring semesters on Thursday instead of Monday would severely hurt the quality of many science lab courses. This is due to the fact that because it takes a lot of time to set up the labs for a new assignment, many lab courses with a lot of lab sections don't make use of partial weeks, and only run labs during full weeks of classes. In the fall, because there are partial weeks of classes the weeks of Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Thanksgiving Day, there are only 12 full weeks of classes in which to have labs (assuming no other weeks are fragmented because of cancellations due to bad weather). If the proposals to begin the semesters on Thursday instead of Monday were approved, the effect would be that a full week would be replaced by two partial weeks, leaving only 11 full weeks of classes in the fall.

Some of the science faculty were among those faculty members who most strongly supported the Labor Day proposal since if approved it would result in fewer partial weeks of classes, and they felt that it would be particularly bad to approve semester starting time policies that would result even more partial weeks (and fewer full weeks of classes). In addition, the Center for Global Education protested that starting the spring semester earlier would have a harmful effect on the Winter Abroad programs, and the physical plant claimed that starting the fall semester earlier would not give them sufficient time to prepare the campus for the fall semester (since a lot of repair work and other preparation work is done after summer session ends and before the fall semester begins). Given all of these major complaints about starting the semesters earlier, the Academic Policies Committee concluded that it would not be good to propose that the semester start about one half week earlier. In addition to the problems that were pointed out, it could be that unexpected problems would also result if any changes were made, and so it seems best to stick with the current academic calendar policies. (Note: More details could be given to support the decision to not recommend any changes at this time, but I wanted to keep this reasonably short.)

It should be noted that due to the problem incomplete class weeks cause for the science labs, any future attempts to add reading days to the academic calendar would have to focus on calendar changes for which the number of incomplete class weeks is not increased. So it seems crucial that a way be found to have classes on Labor Day in order to eliminate the partial week caused by taking Labor Day off.