The University Senate convened earlier this afternoon for a Plenary Session, which many believed would aid in bringing some level of conclusion or new insight to the current academic calendar debacle. It did not. Bwog’s Political Pettiness Bureau Chief Mark Hay was in attendance to watch the unpleasantness unfold.
Despite the buzz of excitement and contention around the issues of the academic calendar, today’s meeting started with little more than a whimper as drips and dregs of senators filtered into Greene Hall. A three-fifths attendance was barely attained.
After much chatter about global centers, Manhattanville, and new J-School initiatives, education committee co-chair Jim Applegate approached the podium to present his committee’s findings on the academic calendar – a system in use since 1972, which has undergone its most thorough review since its inception. Applegate boiled the issue down to a core contention between students who want to start before Labor Day and faculty who want to start after. To Applegate’s mind, starting before Labor Day would injure the prospects of junior faculty with children to focus on their tenure track and developing their career, and the concerns of students about flying home on December 24 “do not register on the same scale.”
In response, CCSC President Sue Yang, ESC President Whitney Green,
Business School Senator Business School Chair-Elect for the Students Tao Tan, and Columbia College Senator Alex Frouman stood before the Senate to present the student side of the case. Tan remarked that the issue is not nearly so black and white as Applegate claims, noting that the level of cooperation against the status quo by department heads and student councils has no precedent at Columbia since 1754.
Yang and Green then recapped the findings of their recent survey, and proposed a limited early start calendar, to take effect only four times in ten years or three in seven when labor day fell on the fifth, sixth or seventh of September. The assembled students even expressed their will to compromise down to a solution that might make an early start only two out of every ten years, or one out of every seven, although some of the details on this latter compromise remained unclear.
Other senators proposed the elimination of the Election holiday as a solution, which would serve to end the dangling Monday before finals and would allow the end date to be pushed back to December 22. Frouman responded by noting that the key concern for students was the compression of study days, and that this would not solve their concerns. He also commented that, compared to peer institutions, Columbians receive fewer study days, with Yang noting the strange imbalance between fall and spring break allocations. David Epstein of the education committee expressed a primary concern, however, with ending on December 22, a firm contradiction to the desire of students.
Some senators, though, took issue with Applegate, asking him how twelve days out of three thousand would really impact tenure, and if his argument really boiled down to “faculty want to spend time with their kids.” Applegate claimed that, in truth, the faculty merely told him their primary concern was keeping their post-Labor Day start date. Another senator chimed in to explain that many academic conventions take place over this weekend and that childcare is hard to find at this time. When pressed as to how other schools manage to start early, this senator brushed off the question as applying to graduate schools whose niche focus probably does not cause a concern with academic conference times for most faculty. However, she neglected to note how other universities as a whole, and other faculties with children operating under the same laws and limitations as Columbia, get away with this fear. Indeed, no senator seemed willing to address this question.
Faculty grilled students as to their concern with study days, proposing to hold weekend finals and end Election Day vacation to end earlier, quipping that one or two days should not kill a student’s GPA. Epstein noted that perhaps the registrar should be pressed to post finals dates earlier so that students can better budget their time and book flights with more notice, eliminating the problem by pushing students to plan ahead carefully.
The bulk of the commentary raised during the meeting, though, was sarcastic at best, nonsensical more often. One attendee asked why the university did not simply switch to a quarter system or elongate its classes and hold fewer sessions. In response, Bollinger joked, “and why didn’t you just consider changing Labor Day?” Applegate’s final word on this solution was as follows: “that’s above our pay grade to decide on.”