MARCH 17, 2014


A. Report from the Academic Calendar Committee on Extending the Thanksgiving Break (D 11445-11449).
On behalf of Professor Hans Hofmann (integrative biology), Chair Hart led a discussion on four options proposed by the University Academic Calendar Committee:
  1. To maintain a minimum of forty-two MWF classes as stipulated in the Principles for Development of the Academic Calendar, we begin the fall semester the fourth Wednesday of August (as we do currently) and extend classes in the fall semester through the first dead day.
  2. To maintain a minimum of forty-two MWF classes as stipulated in the Principles for Development of the Academic Calendar, we begin the fall semester the fourth Monday of August.
  3. We begin the fall semester the fourth Tuesday of August and change the Principles for Development of the Academic Calendar from forty-two MWF classes to forty-one MWF classes.
  4. To maintain a minimum of forty-two MWF classes as stipulated in the Principles for Development of the Academic Calendar, we begin the fall semester the fourth Tuesday of August and treat that Tuesday as a Wednesday.
After summarizing the committee’s rationale for the proposal, Dr. Hart invited Andrew Clark (president, Senate of College Councils) to comment on students’ reactions to the options. Mr. Clark said the students’ focus had primarily been on the start of the fall session and questioned why classes didn’t start on Monday as opposed to Wednesday; he added that students, particularly in natural sciences and engineering, were opposed to losing a dead day, “The two dead days are of greater value to them than having the Wednesday off.”

In answer to Mr. Clark’s question, Dr. Hart explained that option #2 proposed classes start on a Monday rather than Wednesday, and added that this option would negatively impact orientation programs and freshmen welcoming sessions that currently run on the Monday and Tuesday before the session begins. She also reminded members that this option would compress the time between the summer and fall sessions and would lessen study/travel time for faculty and students participating in study abroad programs and for international students returning to campus. She asked Ms. Debbie Roberts (executive assistant, general faculty office) to provide historical information on the Principles of Development for the Academic Calendar. Ms. Roberts was not certain how old they were, but knew that they had been around for a very long time and that the calendar committee was responsible for recommending changes to the principles. She added that she thought the principles were “owned” by the registrar’s office. Professor Jon Olson (petroleum and geosystems engineering) corrected this statement saying the principles are actually owned by the Faculty Council and explained that they are a “loose set of rules” that the registrar follows when setting the academic calendars to ensure, for example, that there are a certain number of weeks of instruction and that there are two dead days.

Professor Douglas Morrice (information, risk, and operations management) said he was intrigued by option #2 and felt that it would balance the two long semesters. Professor Olson clarified that there is actually one full week more of instruction in the spring as compared to the fall.

Professor Wayne Rebhorn (English) said that he had served on the committee in the past and recalled that the main objection to starting the fall session earlier had to do with logistics, i.e. getting buildings ready to accommodate the students. He further commented that he was concerned about “calendar creep,” saying that if Wednesday before Thanksgiving were to become a holiday, he feared that students would take Tuesday off, and then, it might be decided that Tuesday be included in the Thanksgiving break, which would then result in the students taking Monday off as well, ultimately giving them a whole week of vacation.

Professor Linda Reichl (physics) expressed her concern that teaching assistants and student teaching assistants would be working outside of their contract period and felt that it would pose a liability to the University. President Powers responded saying that faculty and teaching assistants get paid through the end of December but are not expected to work the full month, so starting classes one or two days early would be a non-issue in that respect. He went on to say that he felt the logistical issues related to orientations and the opening of buildings could be worked out; but starting on a Monday might make it much more difficult compared to starting on a Tuesday. He opined that starting classes on Tuesday and treating that day as a Wednesday (option #4) seemed to be the cleanest of the options, but stated he had not had an opportunity to find out what logistical problems this might have. He added “I’ll approve any of these you want to do; they are all within the zone.” Dr. Hart followed on President Powers’ comments explaining that the registrar’s office indicated to the committee that treating Tuesday as a Wednesday would be a “nightmare” and would be “chaotic” because students wouldn’t know what to do, but she had no details on what the scheduling issues would be.

Professor Patricia Roberts-Miller (rhetoric and writing) commented that she felt that starting classes earlier would make orientation scheduling more difficult but it would “not be fatal.” She said her preference would be option #3, to change the principles from forty-two MWF classes to forty-one MWF classes. She asked if someone could explain why the principles had been written in this particular way. Dr. Hart said that her understanding of the matter was that it allowed for an equal number of TTH hours as the MWF classes.

Professor Jack Ritchie (physics) suggested that another option might be to start classes on Monday, take Tuesday off for orientation programs, and then resume classes on Wednesday.

Professor Rebecca Callahan (curriculum and instruction) expressed her concern because she teaches three-hour seminars on Mondays and has always had to figure out how to make up the lost week in the fall as compared to teaching in the spring. She said losing a Monday class day of instruction would be particularly challenging. Dr. Hart clarified that she would only lose a Wednesday, not a Monday.

Professor Jody Jensen (kinesiology and health education) voiced her preference for changing the principles (option #3) because it seemed to be the cleanest. She continued saying, “The reality is that we lose the students on that Wednesday anyways. I’m sensitive to the notion of calendar creep, I get it, but at the same time we have lived with this kind of a loss of a Wednesday for a very long period of time.” She reminded Council members that this is the second year in a couple of years that the students have come forward asking for some kind of fall break. She said that the current proposal may be partly motivated by the need for travel time for the Thanksgiving holiday, but she also felt there was some merit to the proposal considering the push to complete final projects, prepare for finals, and catch up. She said she supported option #3 for the general health of the students.

Professor Susan Klein (law) opined that nothing should be changed. She said she has always held class the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the students have attended. “If I were to ever cancel class, I would make it up. I need every class that I’m given.” Her second preference would be to start classes on Tuesday and treat that day as a Wednesday (option #4). She pointed out that the Law School implemented a similar schedule fifteen years ago and that it had worked out well. Professor Klein said she was not in favor of changing the principles so that there would only be forty-one MWF class days instead of forty-two (option #1).

Professor Maria Wade (anthropology) disagreed with Professor Klein saying that students need to travel to their homes for Thanksgiving at a time of year when the weather is often bad, and she worried about her students’ safety. She said she has held her class on Wednesday regardless of whether or not the students attend, because it is her job. Professor Wade felt the University ought to be clear on whether or not classes have to be held on the day before Thanksgiving.

Professor Keryn Pasch (kinesiology and health education) asked for clarification on whether there was an option that started classes on Wednesday (as we currently do), include the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as a holiday, and simply change the principles. Dr. Hart explained this was not an option because Regents’ Rules specify that there must be at least seventy days of instruction each long semester.

Professor Gordon Novak (computer science) reiterated what others had expressed—if the Wednesday before Thanksgiving were to become a holiday, a lot of students would take the whole week. Historically, he said only 50 percent attended his Tuesday class the week of Thanksgiving. He predicted it would be a lot less if Wednesday were to become a holiday.

Professor Michael White (chair, Graduate Assembly, religious studies, classics) laid out some numbers in an attempt to clarify some of the issues: 1) currently there are forty-two MWF meetings during the fall session and twenty-eight TTh classes, which equates to fourteen weeks of instruction, 2) the MWF cycle meets two or three times each week for fifty minutes, and the TTh cycle meets seventy-five minutes twice each week. He said given this information, the two cycles “wind up with exactly the same number of class hours,” which is the basis of the principles as they are currently written. He said dropping the Wednesday before Thanksgiving would reduce MWF to forty-one class days, which he thought would be a “kind of crisis.” He expressed his concern for another kind of creep – what he called clock creep. He said the students in his MWF classes expect class to end at a quarter before the hour, similar to the TTh classes, rather than ten minutes before the hour. He said all of the numbers come into play and need to be considered if the principles are to be modified. He emphasized his preference for preserving MWF class time.

Dr. Blinda McClelland (biology) stated that she supported starting the semester on Monday. She pointed out that starting the semester on Wednesday as we currently do, the first two weeks of the semester are partial weeks because of the Labor Day holiday as compared to the spring semester where there is a full week followed by a partial week due to Martin Luther King Day. Dr. McClelland opined that it made sense to align the two semesters. She asked when AISD started its semester since the University tended to follow AISD’s schedule. Hillary Hart thought AISD started classes on Wednesday, but someone from the audience disagreed and noted that Round Rock also started on Monday.1

Professor Jensen asked faculty members to give consideration to our student body. After acknowledging that “fundamental, technical details” would need to be workout as a result of an extended Thanksgiving break, she reiterated that this is the second year in a row that students have asked for a fall break and said “if we have faith in our student body, it also means that they’re saying we need a break, and we need to be able to catch up.” Professor Jensen also questioned what faculty members did with the class content for the students who had missed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. She suggested that faculty members probably saw an increase in student email messages and/or had to extend their office hours as a result. She asked faculty to contemplate whether this was the best method for teaching.

Professor Olson gave one last argument in favor of extending the Thanksgiving break. He said he teaches Wednesday afternoons and has chosen not to hold class the day before Thanksgiving because the students won’t attend, adding that even if one were to teach class on that day, students will miss because they “are expected to arrive at their parents home on Thursday.” Dr. Olson restated that he was not in favor of shortening the semester, but instead opted to start the fall session on a Monday and have the calendar committee work it out with the orientation organizations.

Professor Martha Hilley (music) thought she recalled discussion about not needing “quite as many days of final exams as we currently have.” Hillary Hart clarified that the committee did consider this and found that it was not feasible to reduce the number of exam days.

Professor Olson proposed that it might be possible to extend final exams by one day. Having been a member of the committee last year, he recalled one option considered had been to extend finals by one week, which was not workable. However, he thought it might be feasible if exams were extended by only one day. If so, Tuesday and Wednesday would become dead days and Monday would be a class day. He acknowledged the biggest issue would be getting grades processed before graduation. Professor Olson stated that he would like the committee to determine whether this option would be acceptable to the registrar. Professor Beckner seconded the proposal with the requirement that the committee bring one option back to the Council for consideration. He pointed out that graduation occurs before grades are submitted, and agreed that the proposal might eliminate one day for grading for those who give exams on the last day.

Dr. Regina Hughes (finance) requested that the committee get feedback from the students on which option they would prefer. She commented, “If we have class on that Monday of dead day, if you teach a class on Monday and Tuesday, and it’s the same class, it’s really going to mess up when those final reports are due. If we have Monday, we should have Tuesday,” Dr. Hart clarified that there were student members on the committee, and they had been accepting of all of the options except for losing a dead day.

Hearing no further discussion, Chair Hart said she would communicate with the committee, and if possible, a proposal would be presented to the Council in April.

1 Austin ISD and Round Rock ISD start their fall semesters on the fourth Monday of August and have off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Return to main minutes