Reading Period Gets Shorter

'Equalized Calendar' Cause of Two-Day Loss, Registrar Says

Reading period is getting shorter, professors are assigning more work during it, and one student's just not gonna take it anymore.

"The fact that reading period is so short has made me want to kill whoever decided to shorten it," says a computer science concentrator. "Send me his name, please."

Other students are somewhat less violent but equally unhappy with recent developments in Harvard's semi-annual pause for sunbathing, sleeping and--occasionally--studying.

In an effort by the Faculty the Undergraduate Council and the Committee on Undergraduate Education to equalize the academic calendar, spring reading period has been shortened by two days, says Registrar Georgene Herschbach.

"In the past, fall reading period was cyclically long and short, ranging form 9 to 14 days. Spring reading period was invariably 14 days," Herschbach says. This spring, reading period lasts 12 days.

Even with the change, Harvard's reading period is the longest of any Ivy League school. Herschbach maintains that the change is hardly drastic.

"This is the first year of the equalized calendar, but there have been shorter fall reading periods in the past," Herschbach says.

But students say that even as reading period gets shorter, professors are assigning more work and scheduling more classes for the time.

"I think that in the true spirit of a reading period, nothing [academic] should meet," says Taa R. Grays '94.

"If reading period were a time to study, then even a week would be great," adds Rodolfo J. Paiz '95. "But since reading period is a time when they give you essays, problem sets and classes, there is no time to study."

Paiz is one of several students who blame professors for violating the spirit of freedom.

"If professors honored what reading period was supposed to be, I'd take it and say thank you," Paiz says. "We need a reading period, not an unofficial semester."

But Dean for Undergraduate Education Lawrence Buell says having assignments and class meetings during reading period makes sense in some courses.

"For the subset of courses where in the nature of the discipline it makes sense for learning to take place in a form of ongoing class meetings rather than have a hiatus period for major projects, meeting in reading period is sensible," Buell says.

And in the future, if anything, reading period is likely to grow shorter.

Hassen A. Sayeed '96, chair of the Undergraduate Council's students affairs committee, says the council's proposal for a reformed academic calendar couldshorten the fall reading period during some yearsby as many as two days.

On the other hand, a shortened reading periodwould also yield more stress-free vacation timeunder the council's proposal, according toSayeed.

"Reading period is something no one wants togive up," Sayeed says "But if students are alittle hassled, they get three full weeks of examfree time at Christmas to recover, which I feel isadequate compensation.