“Just so you all know, section will be held this afternoon at 4:00 p.m., just like last Wednesday and the Wednesday before that. Your attendance is expected. See you there!”
Super, can’t wait! Of course, your dissertation-battered TF expects half of those in your section to bail out and suffer the dreaded “five-point deduction from your final section grade.” And if that Grinchy grad student hadn’t decided that no, Marx wasn’t a “flag-toting conformist in disguise”—however amusing it was as you finished your midterm paper at sunrise—you could afford to tell him or her what to do with that five points.
Maybe I have no right to complain. I’ll be vacationing within driving distance, and so a pre-Thanksgiving section would be aggravating but not apocalyptic. I could leave Cambridge that evening and arrive home just in time to go to bed. My break might be short, but at least I wouldn’t miss the turkey.
But what of those Crimson from California, Europe and beyond? Even with the three-hour rollback going west, it’s hardly possible to make it door in door in under eight hours—unless you live right next to an airport and, by some anomaly, your flight leaves Logan on time.
Although we credit Yale with little more than making us look good by comparison, their calendar is much more accommodating than ours. For them, Thanksgiving break began at the end of classes on Friday. It would be asking a lot of our administration to swallow that top-of-the-Ivies pride and follow Yale’s lead on any issue. And considering the stinginess of Harvard vacations of the whole (almost three weeks for winter break is a wonderful accident this year), I wouldn’t hold my breath for such a sudden paradigm shift. But as a global university representing every state and practically every country, the University must acknowledge the travel realities of its student body and show a little effort at accommodation.
As long as today is not a University holiday, it’s inevitable that some TFs will still hold section. Even those who would have canceled their sections on their own can still be overruled by professors, who can argue that because other sections this week were required to meet, equity demands the same of today’s sections. And in seminars and tutorials, where attendance is often enforced by Draconian penalties for absence—sometimes two or three lead to automatic failure—the problem is still more acute. Unless the physics department unlocks the secret to instantaneous travel, such obligations will force some members of the student body to choose between abandoning their travel plans and suffering academic penalties.
Whether or not the administration can reconcile Harvard’s Spartan philosophy of “play only so that we can better work” with an extra day for Thanksgiving travel, the Faculty and TFs should take it upon themselves to make Thanksgiving travel feasible for all students. This may mean that TFs should reschedule their Wednesday sections for another week— maybe during reading period—or even that professors should cancel all sections for the week of Thanksgiving. And, if they choose to hold Wednesday lectures at all, professors should aim to enrich rather than to present essential material.
To their credit, most professors and TFs already make these accommodations. But it only takes one callous department chair or one disenchanted 20-something to keep us here until the turkey gets cold.