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7 Minutes

Harvard time should be brought in line with real time

By N. KATHY Lin, Contributing Writers

We’ve all been there. Once again you’ve hit the snooze button one time too many; it’s 9:58, you live along the River Charles, and class is in Science Center—on the fourth floor.

But then you breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks to the “7 Minute Rule,” even if the professor starts “on time,” you’ll only be a few minutes late. You could even hit snooze again, if you wanted to.

This inane Harvard-specific tradition, whereby classes start at seven past the hour, should be completely, utterly, irrevocably eliminated.

For one, our little collective habit destroys the mindset of true punctuality. When we all arrive to every class technically late—even if it is on time by the Harvard Clock—something happens to group psychology: tardiness ceases to be rude or disrespectful the way it is usually viewed outside of Harvard’s walls. It becomes accepted as commonplace, institutionalized. People show up late to everything, not only lecture—club meetings, birthday parties, dinners with friends—but it’s okay, because everyone does it. We Harvard kids are up for a rude awakening our first day on the job, away from the Harvard Bubble and its Harvard Clock.

It is not just the students, though—professors have also worked tardiness into their mindset. Knowing that people will, at the earliest, arrive at seven past, they sometimes add in another few minutes to allow for the really late stragglers; some classes won’t start until ten or even fifteen past. Not only is this unfair to on-time students who have to wait, but it also reduces the amount of content that can be covered in any given course.

The seven-minute rule, further, can be very unclear. A very hazy line separates when it should and should not apply. After all, the rule is in place mainly so that people who have back-to-back classes have time to get to their next meeting place. Thus the rule is clearly not in effect on weekends; neither is tardiness to an eight o’clock rehearsal acceptable. But what about a four o’clock section? Your three o’clock seminar? The answer is not so obvious.

The solution, of course, is to have everything start on time. Yes, we do need time to get to class—but a professor with class at a popular time can just as easily stop lecture seven minutes before the hour. Sure, some professors will stop late; but that happens now anyway, with some professors running well beyond the tolling of Memorial Church bells. The length of class will not be changed, just shifted.

At this point, the question becomes how to get this noble idea off of paper and into practice. Good question. I certainly don’t trust the student body (or, hell, myself) to take on such a responsible initiative. That leaves the faculty. Let them, starting now, coordinate to start lectures on the hour on the dot. Students will gradually follow, and slowly if reluctantly shift their habits. It might be painful at first, but I think it’s not such a high cost, not for a fine principle.



N. Kathy Lin ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House.



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