EdBoard: CMU fall fantasy
As students returned to classes following spring break, they were greeted with an email from the Provost and Chief Academic Officer Jim Garrett stating that the university had approved the Academic Calendar for the 2022-2023 academic year(now in full color!). The 14-week semester is here to stay and students will finally have a week-long fall break. Fall and Spring Break are planned for the 8th week of their respective semesters, facilitating a better parallel within the academic calendar.
Garrett cites the 14-week semester as ideal because, “it allows [the university] to better meet the needs of our student’s health and well-being.” But how, Jim? How do students benefit when 15 weeks is squeezed into 14 like an ill-fitting glass slipper? Carnegie Mellon wants to create the queen of calendars, but 14 weeks is no Cinderella.
A semester’s success relies just as heavily on professors as it does on administration. But placing temporal constraints on their teaching can make it difficult to balance content delivery and exam timelines. With the transition this year to the 14-week pilot program, faculty found themselves having to compress or cut content from their classes. Some classes schedule a routine test and a final exam for the same three-hour slot, which does not seem to match the spirit of rest and relaxation proposed by the quashed calendar. With the newly implemented Fall Break, some professors may use that as an opportunity for students to complete some work that was previously cut from the class. If professors use Fall Break as an opportunity for students to catch up on work, by no means will the time actually “provide our teaching and learning community respite in the middle of the semester and a break that allows time for true rest and restoration,” as Garrett wrote.
This isn’t to say that the introduction of Fall Break is necessarily a bad thing; the university is taking action to try and be more mindful of students’ mental health and giving them a break in the middle of both semesters. However, traditionally, these short breaks come at the expense of the semester, becoming breaks in name only. Let’s face it: only having three days off during this year’s fall semester was a recipe for burnout. If students and faculty are actually able to fully step away from academic work during a week in October, it can really be a positive change. But again, this relies on professors also being responsible and ensuring students have minimal work to complete over breaks.
Though Garrett didn’t directly mention it in his message to the Carnegie Mellon community, a fall break will greatly assist faculty who teach mini courses in the fall. With this year’s 14-week fall semester, faculty only had one weekend to wrap up mini-1 courses until mini-2 courses. With the advent of fall break, faculty now have an additional week between mini courses in the fall, which will likely provide an easier wrap up for all involved in fall mini courses, a perhaps unexpected benefit. All in all, semester timing is tricky, but any attempt to address and acknowledge student mental health is a step in the right direction.