More of a Good Thing

A fall break would be a welcome addition to the academic calendar

Spring break has come and gone all too quickly. Some students may have gone home to enjoy some well-deserved rest, others may have sought distant shores to tan and party, but now it is time to face the hectic rush of the semester once more. As much of a burden as returning to school may seem, few would disagree that spring break provides a welcome relief from the daily stress of a Harvard existence, and even fewer would venture to suggest its abolition altogether. We love our spring break. So why not get a fall one as well?

It is easy to appreciate that the spring semester is organized in a far more student-friendly manner than the fall semester. There is a clear division roughly halfway through, one that allows students to catch their breath. Not only do students get a chance to relax, but midterms also tend to be scheduled much more conveniently. Professors tend to see spring break as the natural break that it is, and assign midterms immediately before the break begins. In the fall, on the other hand, and especially among some of the science courses, examinations seem to be scheduled in a hopelessly haphazard manner. In this way, students can form relatively precise expectations of what their workload will look like over the course of the semester.

The fall has Thanksgiving, but it is not quite the same. Not only is the break short, it also comes immediately before reading period. Thus, the small interval of subsequent classes appears to be almost an afterthought, with little potential for valuable intellectual development. The fact of the matter is that the fall semester is already longer than the spring one, so it could afford a trimming. Many other universities already have a fall break, with no detrimental effects to be discerned. Even the Yalies have one, encompassing Thanksgiving—and we hate to admit it, but in this case they’re doing things better than we are.

A fall break would allow students to pursue meaningful activities, such as the many service trips that the Phillips Brooks House Association sponsors over spring break. The academic and extracurricular load that students shoulder makes it difficult for many to engage in meaningful community service during the semester, a situation that could be remedied by more time off. By having two breaks during the school year, students could use one to go home or on vacation and one to pursue service, and not have to decide between the two.

If such a break were to exist, Harvard should also provide opportunities on campus for people who chose to stay. Programming similar to that of Wintersession, while not mandatory, could prove to be constructive and fun. In addition, it would be nice to see at least some of the dining halls remain open, a change that could also be applied to spring break. It seems fundamentally unfair that while those with the greatest financial need are the least likely to travel during spring break, students who remain have no access to affordable dining hall food.

To be fair to the administration, the academic calendar has seen significant positive change in recent years. In 2007, President Derek C. Bok’s administration did away with the horrific arrangement whereby fall final exams took place after winter break. Yet praising past improvements should not impede the pursuit of new ones. So Harvard, please give us a break.