A Plea for Progress

Last week, many of us abandoned our winter breaks early to trek back to school for yet another round of reading period and final exams. We left behind sun, fun, relaxation and, most disturbingly, a chorus of snickering friends from other schools who had already finished exams well before winter break. Most of these lucky students were looking forward to another two weeks of relaxation before returning for their second semester, highlighting the cruelty of the Harvard schedule.

Winter exams have traditionally been scheduled after break so that the University may begin the term after Labor Day. But such mindless adherence to antiquated tradition reflects poorly on an institution dedicated to the cultivation of reason. The archaic idea that finals should occur after winter break has vexed undergraduates for too long, and now, in the first year of the new millennium, the University should take the bold step of revamping our schedule to join the rest of the modern world.

The Faculty naturally oppose the scheduling change. Such petty bourgeois are perfectly content to benefit from the reduction in class time and the student misery of the present regime. And since the Faculty must vote to approve any new schedule, progress is unlikely to come soon—but those members of the Faculty who are concerned with student welfare, however few and far between they may be, must realize that a rationalized schedule would lead the Harvard student experience into a glorious new era.

In a new schedule, fall term exams would take place soon after classes end, leaving material fresh in the mind. Undergraduates could then embark on a longer, more relaxing vacation, one that coincides with the winter breaks of other schools and enables long-lost friends to meet once more. Upon the end of a relaxing break free of term-paper worries, undergraduates would return to Harvard refreshed, easing into the second semester with new schedules and cleared minds.

An earlier start to the year would lift the Administration’s burden of providing special housing to student athletes, who currently must arrive at school several weeks early to train for a season corresponding to other schools’ schedules. An earlier end to the spring semester would assist students seeking jobs or summer programs that begin in late May, improving the reputation of the Office of Career Services. And the new schedule would save admissions officers from charges of hypocrisy, as they publicly decry student burnout and at the same time deny students so much as a single week of stress-free vacation. No doubt some small inconveniences would arise, but after all, one cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.

It is sad that Harvard, which prides itself on leading other universities, should so tenaciously cling to an agricultural anachronism inconsistent with the demands of industrial society. President Neil L. Rudenstine, now in his final semester, should consider a schedule change as a memorable parting gift to the student body. Otherwise, the student body will have only option left: direct action. Students—you have nothing to lose but your chains! You have a winter break to win.

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