Longer Thanksgiving break, more study days approved

Following last month’s open town hall meeting, senior staff approved the Educational Policy and Governance Committee’s (EPAG) recommendation to amend next year’s academic calendar.

The changes include two new days off: an additional study day before finals and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving; both approved for the Fall 2014 semester.

While EPAG discussed other changes, such as a week-long fall break and a shorter J-term, student representative June Ban ’14 said that the committee agreed to make the smaller changes first.

Despite the added breaks to the semester, the number of instructional days will stay the same.

“Academic days are going to stay the same,” Ban said. “Study days are not instruction[al] days. I think a lot of people confuse that.”

A main concern for the extra study day was making sure that “the extra study day [was] more effective … more meaningful,” said Merita Bushi ’14, the second student representative to EPAG. The second day will be what Bushi described as “a ‘dead day,’” on which no events will take place.

This will differ from the current study day, which is often filled with capstone presentations and review sessions.

The hope for the additional day is that students will be able to make greater use of their time and have a true break before the beginning of finals.

“No essays or tests [will be] due those days either,” said Bushi, adding that “everyone was really receptive” to the idea.

In lieu of a final decision on a week-long Fall or Thanksgiving Break, the additional day was added to Thanksgiving Break to allow for travel, since many students either leave early or have classes cancelled prior to Thanksgiving.

While supportive of the longer break, Bushi expressed concern that students will still leave early, but now on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.

“[Thanksgiving Break] is a privilege, not something that is guaranteed,” she said. “It’s really important that students don’t take advantage of that.”

The instructional day lost because of the added day of break will most likely be added to the end of the semester, Bushi said.

The recommendation for the new calendar was made before the Dec. 1 deadline, and the 2014-2015 changes were added to the Macalester website this Tuesday, according to Registrar Jayne Niemi.

“I’m glad it’s out there for next year,” she said, adding that the calendar provides crucial information for students waiting to be admitted, the admissions office, and others.

Originally, the EPAG recommendation had been for the next five years, but approval was only granted for the upcoming fall semester. Discussions about the following years continued in Thursday’s EPAG meeting.

Acting Provost Kendrick Brown told EPAG to take a closer look at the 1992 faculty policy that set the minimum number of instructional hours at 42 per semester and to ensure that any following calendars will meet the number of hours specified.

Bushi also commented on the number of instructional days in the semester.

“Personally, I wish there were more,” she said, saying that students may feel as though they aren’t getting their money’s worth of class time. However, she also acknowledged the subsequent issue of where those days would be placed.

“We hoped that we would do five years’ worth of calendars,” Niemi said, “[but] we don’t want to commit five years in advance if we have to turn around and change it again … that would feel awkward for me.”

Discussions about the calendar will be ongoing.

“We’re going to move slowly and make sure we have it right,” Niemi said.

All sources seemed pleased with the short-term progress made.

“It took a couple of years to get this to happen, ” Ban said. “I think it was a really big deal that we made it to this level of discussion.”

“I really am appreciative of all the hard work that has gone into the calendar,” Brown said.

“It needs a lot more discussion,” Bushi said. “It will take time. I want people to give it time but to keep up the fight as well.”

Both Ban and Bushi were impressed with the level of student involvement in the creation of the new calendar, saying that student voices were a driving force in getting issues out in the open and the changes approved.

“The change we made shows the power of student participation,” Ban said.

“Students have more power than they think they do, and the calendar can be a good example,” Bushi said. “Any other place that you’re a consumer, you’re going to demand things, and what makes college different? Something could and probably will happen. You just have to bring it up.”