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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Man cannot survive by coffee alone

    Today marks day 48 of the 49-school-day stretch between Labor Day and Veterans Day, the first two of a whopping four vacation days in our 75-school-day fall semester. Are you tired yet?

    What the UA needs is a fall break, and once, we nearly got one. In spring 2003, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona proposed its plan for a fall break that would turn the current two-day Thanksgiving break into a full week.

    It was shot down first by the Faculty Senate and then, the following day, by the Undergraduate Council. The general consensus among both groups was that a fall break, particularly one during Thanksgiving week, was unnecessary due to its proximity to the end of the semester, as well as detrimental to the academic mission of the university.

    The current Faculty Senate stands by this position. “”There’s been a real reluctance to give up contact hours, to water down the semester,”” explains Vice Chair of the Faculty Robert P. Mitchell. But giving students a mid-semester breather doesn’t have to entail sacrificing the quality of our education. Yale and Princeton give students the week of Thanksgiving off (Yale also gives them a two-week spring break). Stanford and the University of Chicago both operate on a quarter schedule; the former gives students the week-long Thanksgiving break, the latter gives them most of September off. And, last I checked, those were all decent institutions.

    In fact, a fall break wouldn’t cause the curricula to be watered down but rather would concentrate them into two smaller bursts broken up by a week when students might rest, recuperate and reflect upon what they’ve learned. Of course, that’s not exactly how a great many students already spend their spring breaks, but perhaps it would be if breaks felt less like hasty gulps of fresh air before being strapped back onto the waterboard.

    Mitchell admits that the Faculty Senate has no hostility to the general idea of a fall break but insists that implementing one would be prohibitively impractical. “”Moving finals back or forward a day offsets the whole calendar,”” he explains, and beginning the fall semester a week earlier to accommodate a break, as many have suggested, would cause an even larger disruption by cutting into time allotted for the second summer session.

    So why not plan now to implement a fall break in 2010 – the next fall semester for which there is not yet a calendar? And if the UA was feeling particularly ambitious, it could even do away with pre-session to adopt a “”4-1-4″” schedule like that seen at Oberlin, MIT and others. A “”4-1-4″” schedule shortens the summer by a few weeks to turn the entire month of January into an extended winter session, wherein students can study abroad, take an extra class or do whatever other adventuring they please.

    The real problem with implementing schedule changes is money, according to ASUA Sen. James Pennington-McQueen. “”You’re going to get more money the more contact hours (you) have,”” he says. “”This is representative of the Pima County-Maricopa County struggle for funds. (A fall break) would be advantageous for the students but detrimental for the university as a whole.”” Indeed, both UA’s and ASU’s fall semesters are longer than average. Given how strapped for cash the state has become in recent years, the money explanation seems to be right on, well, the money.

    Financial woes don’t have to preclude a fall break, though. Beginning a week earlier to make room for such a break would retain the number of contact hours in our semester, which would prevent the UA from losing funds. The scheduling problem created by such a change could be solved by getting rid of pre-session. No pre-session, of course, means no pre-session tuition money for the university, but we could compensate for that with our perpetual tuition hikes. I’d certainly be more eager to chip in an extra $250 or so if I knew I was getting a week of shut-eye in return.

    And rather than closing the university altogether, as ASUA proposed in 2003, the fall break could consist only of cancelling classes, ensuring that new and non-salaried employees are not forced to take an unpaid vacation.

    Whatever we do – and we’ve got to do something – it is of the utmost importance that students end up with more than a measly four days of vacation scattered throughout the fall semester. If we don’t have the time to attend to needs so basic as sleep and relaxation, we can never be expected to retain what we are taught, let alone really be in top form. We may not begin cranking out Einsteins by the dozen immediately after implementing a fall break, but without the opportunity to rejuvenate themselves, even the geniuses among us can achieve nothing of consequence.

    Alyson Hill is a senior majoring in classics, German studies and history.
    She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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