Calendar No Good Reason to Go to Yale
State of mind after the Harvard-Yale game last week: the Crimson is beaten in the final two minutes, Yale's administration actually subsidizes the alcohol for campus parties, and its students get a whole week off for Thanksgiving break: it was not a happy time to be a member of that "excellent school in the Northeast."
But life went on. As the sun rose Sunday morning, the loss at The Game became a faint memory (or perhaps that was just due to excessive tailgating). The morning light restored perspective. Sure, they can buy overflowing pitchers of beer for $7. But was that worth the ponderous Gothic architecture, the seedy neighborhood and a crime rate that necessitates that each "college" be a gated community? The answer, of course, was no. There is no incentive large enough to want to become a dreaded Yalie.
Except, maybe, their vacation schedule. While many of us had papers, problem sets or at the very least reading due during the three days before Turkey Day, the Bulldogs had a full 10 days of free time. When Harvard students had to blearily travel back to Cambridge, Yalies, along with the students of many other colleges were traveling home and beating the Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving-rush. This injustice, on top of losing The Game, was too much.
Harvard's academic schedule is consistently different from that of other schools. And we're usually on the losing end: our last final is at the end of May, we begin after most of our friends have already gone back to school and our winter breaks are marred by impending final exams and term papers. Yet perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Harvard's schedule is that it is so difficult to understand why the administration subjects us to it. Despite the enormity of the task, a few hardy students recently responded to the daunting question:
Why is Harvard's academic schedule so weird?
"It's all part of their plan to force us to give money. Since our schedule is different from all other schools, we have to spend all our time with Harvard people. We vacation with Harvard people, so we marry Harvard people. Then at our 25th reunion we fork over money because we'll have all these fond, romantic memories: 'Oh look Casey, there's the Grille! Where we first met!'"
A fellow conspiracy theorist had a more moderate, if less idealistic, explanation. "There's an understanding between Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 and the only Cancun vacation company that's open during our spring break. He gets a kickback for every Harvard student that vacations there. But to hide it from the IRS and the Ad Board, he's paid in Crimson Cash."
Not all responses, however, made me want to add a psychological evaluation to the admissions process. One very reasonable student explained that our academic schedule exists in order to make room for reading period. Unfortunately, when asked to explain the existence of those two lecture-less weeks before finals he replied "they realize that during the term, we focus on our extra-curriculars more than our classes. Reading period is the time to catch up and do all the work we didn't do during the term. It's actually very understanding of them."
Somehow, I doubt that institutionalized cramming-time was what the administration had in mind. Clearly, however, students often treat it as such. And when undergraduates choose not to spend their reading periods cramming, they use it to visit friends at other schools. To clarify matters here are the words of Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz, (taken from an e-mail message), associate dean of undergraduate education: "Reading period is meant to be an integral part of the term, [it is not] not meant as a time to catch up after ignoring work during the term. Perhaps we should give it a different name."
So, in case you've forgotten, reading period is a time for work. If you feel it's the most relaxed time at college, congratulations and keep it quiet; they might revoke it.
However, if you're a student whose classes meet through reading period, who has four finals and four final papers, two of which are due right after winter break, and dreams of a week-long Thanksgiving break and a fall semester that ends in December, you might want to switch concentrations (or schools) and take note of Dean Lewis' words, from a recent e-mail message: "I wonder why we would want to compete to be number one in number of vacation days. Having no classes at all would guarantee victory in that competition. At the prices we charge, I would have thought that teaching less would be regarded as a bad thing."
And in case you weren't aware, our rival's 10-day Thanksgiving break is marred by the fact that its finals come almost immediately afterwards. Many went back to school early in order to work. We, on the other hand, were able to spend America's best secular holiday largely work-free. We can always give thanks for that.
Christina S. Lewis '02 is a history and literature concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.