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To the Editors of The Crimson:
Now that I've caught you feverishly cramming for finals and praying that you'll remember those obscure quotes from Plato's Symposium for you Hum 5 midyear, I think it's a good time to step back and really look at this beast called "Reading Period." As I see it there are two issues at hand here. First we need to ask what kind of miserable calender system bestowed such a monster as Reading Period on us undergrads, and second we should wonder whether this animal, since it does thrive among us, serves any sort of useful purpose.
Now we all know that the first thing any gullible high school student thinks of when he is accepted by Harvard is tradition. After all, not just any place can claim to have been the first college founded on these shores; even is this fortunate circumstance is overlooked, only eight universities can boast of Ivy League status. Besides all this, who else can show off such prominent alumni as James Schlesinger, Henry Kissinger, Archibald Cox, James D(NA) Watson, and Teddy Kennedy, along with some lively cynicism from Ralph Nader. And then what about distinguished likes of Henry James, John Dos Passos, FDR, Norman Mailer (who did not write the Monroe doctrine), Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Joseph Alsop, Frederick Lewis Allen...All right, I give up! I concede! Harvard is tradition, for God's sake.
Once we are compelled to recognize Harvard's venerable past and accept it as such, we must then look at its present. Do we choose the approach of Harvard's faculty and allow inertia to paralyze our minds and our motivation, or do we discard the indulgence of self-admiration that seems to grip the University today?
These questions are important, for they form the center of the great calendar-reform controversy. No one wants to go home for Christmas, only to face another month of courses, review, and then, finally, examinations when he returns to school. It's so wonderful to make the long-awaited sojurn home in December, to see family and friends, and to hear "oh, weren't finals so rough? Christ I'm glad they're over with. I worked my ass off studying those last couple of weeks." Comments like these do much to enliven an otherwise dull vacation, and the possibilities for more intense discussion are infinite. There's nothing like sharing the relief of all your friends, who themselves can hardly refrain from exclaiming, "You wanted Harvard and now you've got it!"
Since no sane person would want finals after Christmas, why in the world are we given this uncommon opportunity? There has got to be some legitimate, valid (notice I did not say logical), or even quasi-acceptable reason for such a policy. But after searching the Freshman Dean's Office, hounding proctors and class officers, even after carefully scrutinizing the graffitti in Cabot Library (the first stall on the ground floor has some terrific stuff), I have discovered not a single plausible argument for Harvard's academic calendar.
Let's face it. The faculty, which barely, and I mean barely, mustered up enough votes to move the calendar back one week, just does not pay attention to the students, the ones most affected by their decisions. Their recent reform still fails to address the exam problem and the inconvenience of trying to compete for summer jobs with students who finish school in early May. (Heaven forbid that Yale do something right, and a lightening bolt plus two divine interventions should Harvard ever admit it.) Harvard's professors should extend themselves a little more for their students, and moving the college's starting date back to early September would help immeasurably. Of course, I've heard that the green flies of Maine are much less ferocious in September than June, and the Science Center isn't about to displace Bermuda as the Western Hemisphere's next great resort, but really, prof, a Cambridge autumn ain't all that bad.
And what about Reading Period? If you resign yourself to taking exams after the festive season, three weeks of concentrated studying is not a bad deal. But come on. How many of you had no classes to attend, no papers to write, and no sections to drag youselves to this month? Oh, and for all of you Chem 10 students, isn't it nice to have problem sets all the way up to the first day of finals? Most people probably have less than a week of reading period, and even if they do have more, who needs it? One solid week of review before vacation would approximate the time we actually get under the present system, and the prospect of a true vacation following exams would assuage some of the tension that always arises during this time. The atmosphere couldn't be any crazier than what exists every night in Harvard's libraries--believe me, when Hilles is full you know something's up. As things stand now, the menace of finals can ruin a vacation; and even worse, when exams finally end we are denied a significant respite from our labors by having to return to the same academic grind that we just finished.
The only rationale, besides the faculty's self-indulgence, for Harvard's deplorable calendar is Reading Period. Harvard professors love their Reading Period; who knows, if it were any longer we might be enrolling in November for a five month winter Reading Period, followed by three summer months of accelerated post-Reading Period review. But the present system has been so degraded that one can't help resenting it.
So when it comes right down to it, we have no choice: we must beg, cajole, tempt, propitiate, and otherwise urge out professors to pause for a moment, to descend from the high loft of prestige, and to show a little understanding. As my roommate gently put it, "I think the faculty forgets that the college exists solely for us." I don't want the students to become as selfish as the faculty appears to be; that would accomplish nothing. Only compromise can resolve the calendar and Reading Period dilemma, but when one side refuses to moderate its views or simply to scknowledge the other's dissatisfaction, it destroys the feasibility of compromise.
Harvard is a great institution, but its greatness doesn't insulate it from conflict. I would hope that our faculty could forget about three hundred years of tradition for a moment or two in order to settle the significant grievances about Harvard's calendar. Just because most other colleges in the country schedule finals before Christmas doesn't make it right; but when your own students are unhappy then maybe it's time to change. I earnestly hope, for everyone's sake, that the faculty will exercise wisdom and judgement by subordinating its self-interest to the wishes of the students. Michael Korn '80
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