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Examining the Schedule

Butting Heads

By Peter J. Howe

MOVE EXAMS before Christmas, and you're doing away with not one but two Harvard traditions. First, of course, there's Exams After Christmas. But the second is even greater and more venerable:

Screwing Off All Semester.

Without a doubt, screwing off all semester--and getting away with it--is the best thing we learn here. As the joke goes, what if God had been a Harvard student? He would've jerked around for six days and then pulled an all-nighter.

And he still would've bagged an A.

Knowing how to do six days' work in a night, or in this case, 13 weeks' work in a night, is the most marketable skill we could ever have. And Harvard teaches it to us better than anywhere else. All through the beauty of the New England autumn, we know we never have to suffer through Lipsey & Steiner or "The Origins of American Politics." Like a safe harbor off on the horizon, reading period beckons us, inviting us to sleep through that stultifying section, ignore that optional problem set, leave our textbooks undisturbed in the Coop bag. When January comes, Macintoshes will glow for 99 hours straight and coffee will flow all night, but it is a small price to pay for the joy of the fall's daily cocktail hours and never an episode of 'The Equalizer" missed.

Predictably, most of the outcry against post-Noel exams comes from freshmen. Hah. There's reason enough for preserving the status quo. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, we only grow through suffering and affliction. This is why 'shmen have Expos, the mixer, vomit-inducing Weld Hall keg parties and the Union salad bar. This is also why freshmen, by tradition, suffer through a semester of doing all the work, only to get C-pluses.

After that first semester, freshmen have grown into Ubermenschen who know they can have three and a half fun-filled years, do no work until reading period, and get B's.

But move back first-semester exams, and reading period will have to shrink. We will have to start doing work every week to be prepared for exams. And we will lose the true benefit of Harvard.

Learning how to screw off all semester.

OF COURSE, there are other arguments for keeping the current schedule. You say, for instance, that having January exams prevents you from enjoying Christmas break. You're tense all vacation. Fine. Abuse narcotics.

And if we're going to move exams back to make life easier for people who celebrate Christmas, that's discriminating. Better move exams back to November to make Channukah free of worries. Better move them back to October to make Thanksgiving angst-free for secular types. Better move them back to May to make Arbor Day less nerve-wracking.

If you're going to move exams back and shrink reading period, better cancel all extracurricular activities. Nobody will have the time if they have to do schoolwork. Better cancel the field hockey team. Better close down PBH. And definitely stop publishing this newspaper.

Moreover, December exams would mean we'll all have to come back to school in mid-August, when the Square is still infested with teenage skinheads pretending to be alienated, and humidity covers Cambridge like Reynolds Wrap. Who wants that extra time off in May? Nauset is still covered with ice. Morgan Stanley hasn't started its summer intern program yet. I'd rather go back to school in clear, crisp September, after enjoying the warm waters of Cape Cod Bay for two extra weeks with nary a tourist from Woosta to disturb me.

But the most important reason for keeping post-Christmas exams is that if you hold them earlier, you'll have to chop reading period. Then we'll have to do the reading all semester to keep up.

And for this we labored to graduate from high school?

WAR IS PEACE. Ignorance is Strength. Freedom is Slavery. Scallops are made from cod. Exams should be after vacation.

If you're in any bad place long enough, you lose your grasp on reality. Worse, while you think Big Brother is your friend, the Big Guy is laughing himself silly.

University Hall is chock full o' deans chuckling in their Brooks Brothers lapels. For their own convenience, they've imposed a deviant scheduling system known nowhere else (outside of New Jersey). They've made us take exams after vacation. Christmas holidays, which for most college students are times of release and partying without restraint, become two-week guilt trips. Of course, we have a four-day intersession to do all the partying we need.

And what's really funny, U-Hall's got certain up-perclassmen defending the system with all they've got. The Politburo should be so lucky.

According to these Harvard veterans, if we didn't have our two-week reading period, all extracurriculars would be abandoned, there'd be no Harvard Crimson, no sports, no PBH community work. Right. Like Yale, Brown, Columbia, Michigan and 400 other other schools with no extracurriculars.

Better yet, these deluded upperclassmen say that the administration teaching us to be better blow-offs. If not for the Harvard schedule-makers, we'd have to do all the work during the semester, like the demi-humans in Cabot Library. The administration's helping us be non-students. Okay. And that was veal you had last night.

I guess the administration learned this from their Jersey friends. Princeton, too, has exams after vacation. I guess that's why everyone at Princeton doesn't do any work.

ACTUALLY, the administration's policy caters to the creatures who do all the reading and take down the name of every optional book the professor mentions in class.

The typical Harvard student carries a load of books home for Christmas and consults his friend Smirnoff about whether he or she ought to be studying. On the other hand, certain lower forms of life masquerading as Harvard students will, in fact, open the books they bring home. Often.

So, not only is my drinking rudely interrupted by thoughts of the angst-ridden early writings of pre-war female Ukrainian poets and the exact date of Kandinsky's first non-expressionist painting, but the same people who I dream of torturing in section are getting two extra weeks to screw up the curve. And you can be fairly sure they're not going to lend me the briefcase full of notes they recopied back home under the Christmas tree.

Then, thanks to our buddies in the administration we get to fly back to pupu platters two whole weeks earlier than our friends at the other 99 percent of American colleges and begin three weeks of fun, fun, fun.

The surreal aspect about all this is that those people ready to die for exams after vacation are really fighting for the extra two or three weeks in September.

I love reading period. I didn't need my friends at University Hall to teach me that work is bad and to be avoided. I, like most other Harvard students, turned down Princeton and the lure of the mandatory junior thesis. We could have our two-week reading period if we were willing to come back, say, September 4.

While the less time spent here the better, I can give up a couple of weeks in September. Sorry Pete, we had to sell our house at Newport to pay the tuition. I want a Christmas vacation filled with the Chicago Bears and with Budweiser, not Kant, Durkheim and other people--all not my friends--who worry a lot about Weltanschauung.

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