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Take a Day Out of Reading Period

By The CRIMSON Staff

Last week at a meeting of the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE), Harvard Registrar Georgene B. Herschbach presented a proposal which called for reducing spring and fall final exam periods from nine to eight days. The proposal is apparently designed to solve two problems with the current exam schedule.

To begin with, the spring exam period typically ends on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, which "causes all sorts of problems," according to Herschbach. Additionally, an average of 20 students a semester submit requests to reschedule their Saturday exams due to religious conflicts. An added benefit of shorter exam periods would be one more day of precious intersession.

We're leery, however, of potential problems. The most serious side effect of trimming down final exam periods would be that more students would have to deal with two or even three exams on a single day (known in registrar parlance as doubles and triples). Any students knows that having three finals in one day can be seriously hazardous to one's grade point average. Supervisor of Examinations Thomas Lynch is aware of this problem, and believes that computer optimization can minimize the number of additional doubles and triples necessary. He also mentioned that conflicts could be avoided by designating more classes as having tentative exam dates.

But we agree with Marco B. Simons '97, a CUE member and the chair of the Student Affairs Committee of the Undergraduate Council, who adroitly pointed out that many students would be inconvenienced by an increased number of classes with uncertain final exam dates.

Regardless of the details, the crux of the matter is simply that a shorter finals period means exams will be packed more closely together; this is likely to be detrimental even to those students who don't wind up with doubles or triples. So, we would like to recommend a solution which surprisingly was not even discussed at the CUE meeting. Shave an extra day off reading period. Everyone knows that reading period is a cosmic farce to begin with. A bloated 11 days long, reading period is simply a thinly disguised extension of the semester during which professors feel free to hold classes, assign papers and problem sets and generally make our lives difficult.

Trimming reading period would solve all our problems. Exams could remain at nine days long, the registrar wouldn't have to go through contortions to prevent doubles and triples, and the Memorial Day/religious conflict problems would be solved. Plus, we'd have that luscious extra day of intersession. And finally, we would have taken a symbolic step towards admitting that reading period is far too long--and far too subject to professors' wills--to begin with.

We urge the CUE to seriously consider this option before they decide to hack an already crammed exam period down to eight days.

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