Professors Voice Approval of Reading Period Proposal

Professors interviewed by The Crimson praised discussions on changing the structure of reading period to better accommodate students who primarily take courses with final papers.

The proposal, discussed at the Committee on Undergraduate Education’s meeting on Feb. 6, would change the structure of reading period so that final assignments and papers would be due on specified days during exam period rather than reading period. Students would find out exam and due dates during shopping week.

“This change, if it goes through, should give students in courses with final projects or papers, rather than final exams, more time to complete them: the result could be more and better learning for everyone,” English professor Stephen L. Burt wrote in an email to The Crimson.

Cheryl B. Welch, director of undergraduate studies in the Government Department, told The Crimson in an email that she approves of the proposal.

“As different ways of assessing student work have become more common, it seems odd to save a long period only for traditional seated exams,” Welch wrote. “I know of many cases where students get completely jammed up with paper and project deadlines in Reading Period and then have nothing in exam period.”

Folklore and mythology professor Maria Tatar said she regularly encounters students in the humanities with over 70 pages to write during reading period—something that would change if a recent proposal becomes policy. Tatar added that she would be able to expect her students to spend more time on their final papers without the need to rush to finish by the middle of reading period.

Amanda J. Claybaugh, an English professor who attended the meeting when Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris introduced the proposal, said that the suggested changes made her consider problems with the current system. The proposal, she said, is an “excellent solution.”

“What was interesting to me about the meeting was that I really hadn’t thought about the implications of student scheduling when I [assigned] paper deadlines,” Claybaugh said, adding that her final paper deadlines are during exam period already.

Undergraduate Council Education Committee Chair Darragh Nolan ’15, who attended the committee meeting, said the proposal could have positive effects on students because it would give those with multiple final papers more time to complete assignments and ensure that due dates would be spread out.

In an interview on the evening of the committee meeting, UC Vice President Jen Q. Y. Zhu ’14 told The Crimson that many students would probably welcome the change. But going forward in the discussion, she added, the UC wants to make sure that the change would not “add additional burden” on students during “an academically stressful time."

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

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