Extra days off leave faculty scrambling to revise syllabi
On Wednesday, Jan. 11, just three days into the spring semester, a university-wide email was sent to students and faculty stating that there will be no classes held on Tuesday, April 10 and Wednesday, April 11, adding an extra two days to the Easter Break.
The announcement was made after a university official brought an error in the 2011-2012 Calendar and Student Handbook stating that classes would resume after Easter Monday to the attention of Dr. Raymond Heath, vice president for student life. Heath is the chair of the Calendar Committee, which meets periodically each semester to plan the academic schedule for the following year.
Dr. Alan Levine, vice president for academic affairs, stated that as mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the university is required to hold fourteen class sessions for each day of the week (Monday through Saturday) and one session of a final or culminating experience in order to meet forty-two contact hours per semester.
The Calendar Committee plans each spring semester starting with Commencement on Mother’s Day, and works its way backwards until the required days are achieved. When they set this year’s schedule in October of 2010, they were aware that two extra days were built in and allowed them to be added to Easter break.
According to Heath, the mistake in the calendar occurred “in the final phase, [about] mid- to late-May of 2011, when a well-intentioned individual from the university [proofreading the calendar] saw the two days and thought they were an oversight.”
As a result, the calendars were printed and the two extra Easter break days were omitted. After Heath was made aware of the error at the beginning of the spring semester, he and Levine discussed whether or not they should allow classes to be held. They came to the decision to change the calendar back to the original schedule in order to be fair to all classes since the two days were not needed.
Both Heath and Levine said that they have not heard any comments or complaints about the change. Heath did say that “two or three” professors called his office just to confirm that the change was indeed correct.
The general student reaction on campus has ranged from happiness to indifference. Geri Smith, a senior mathematics major, said, “It didn’t matter to me; I could have lived with the extra days.”
Dr. Helen Bittel, associate professor and chair of the English department, said, “I’m not going to turn down extra time off, [but] it forces faculty to revise an already tight schedule, which can be complicated and confusing.” She also noted that modifying class schedules “takes [more] juggling than you would expect in order to accommodate deadlines.”
Heath added “the detail that is involved [in planning the calendar] can be challenging” since it requires working with all aspects of university life so he is “glad” that the error was caught early in the semester.
According to Dr. Heath, next year the university will not have an extended Easter Break. To accommodate this, Dr. Levine said that next year the fall semester will not begin a week early as it did this year. Rather, it will begin on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012.