Students have greeted the recent announcement of 24-hour facilities at Lamont library with an outpouring of excitement and support. Indeed, students have much reason to celebrate this rousing success for the Undergraduate Council. No longer will Lamont close its doors on the crowds of dedicated students working late into each night. No longer will the typically overburdened undergraduate retreat to a dark dorm room to study, huddled under a desk lamp with a roommate sleeping only a few feet away.
Harvard College Libraries (HCL) and administrators in University Hall have agreed to assume responsibility for a resource—at considerable cost, no doubt—that will assuredly contribute to the academic performance, mental health, and general well-being of undergraduates. For that, students should be grateful. And while students do have much reason to celebrate extended library hours, they are perhaps missing the greater issue at stake.
We must recognize this success as the initiation of a more critical conversation between the Undergraduate Council and the University. It is a conversation about the realities of undergraduate life at the College. The establishment of a 24-hour library constitutes an important first step in University Hall’s commitment to recognizing the dramatically skewed and extended schedules of students on campus. And it is a conversation that will continue with all deliberate speed as the UC and the administration work together to gain greater understanding and accommodation of undergraduate lives.
Today, we attend a school whose rules are written by our predecessors. It is a school in which schedules for classes, meals, shuttles, and services have been set by deans and administrators—those who start their days at 7 a.m. and probably commute home sometime before dark. Everyone—parents, faculty and administrators—would acknowledge that students work hard and stay up late. But how can they know just how hard, and how late?
This fall, the UC conducted a survey of more than 260 students to initiate a dialogue about student sleep and study schedules. What we found were trends that exceeded even our own expectations.
Students are staying up to work late—very late. More than 67 percent of students study past 1 a.m. on the average night, and 42 percent typically continue their work sometime past 2 a.m. Fully 15 percent of undergraduates finish studies after 3 a.m. each day. Not surprisingly, these same students are staying up even later. More than 82 percent of undergraduates at the College are staying up past 1 a.m. Over 51 percent of them are still active past 2 a.m. And more than 22 percent of all students are awake past 3 a.m. on the average school night.
At last, students at Harvard can take full advantage of our outstanding library resources at all hours during the day and the night. But, as significantly, students can commend the University for diligently laboring to recognize collegiate schedules as they are—not simply as parental instinct would have them be. The coming extension of library hours marks an important departure from the flawed paternalism that has sometimes held sway within University Hall. Deans, librarians, and administrators have taken the most important leap since 2 a.m. party hours towards recognizing and accommodating student realities.
The UC commits to expanding that dialogue to include those other institutional schedules that still reflect the preferences of deans and administrators on campus. Not only that, the UC seeks to distinguish collegiate life today from the antiquated schedules set generations ago for students who were living in a different era. Just as our work on Harvard College Libraries sought the input and involvement of the student body through surveys, future initiatives require the earnest effort on the part of the UC to translate student realities and student concerns to those people who run this College. Just as students shape their lives to the institutions at Harvard, so too administrators would do a service in continuing to accommodate Harvard facilities to the needs of its students. On what, then, should the College next focus its attention?
As one project among many, the UC should work in close collaboration with administrators at the College in helping Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) reevaluate campus dining hours. I, for one, have no use for breakfast at 7 a.m., when the dining halls first open every morning. In fact, I join scores of students who often miss breakfast altogether, as the 10 a.m. closing frequently arrives before my morning alarm.
Involved students and committed athletes struggle to find time in busy evening schedules for dinner within the narrow window currently offered. And students working late seek the ever-expanding services from late-night Brain-Breaks, a snack which for many has come to represent a fourth meal. In the interest of healthy living, the University needs to take a close look at what services we offer to students and when.
Like anything at Harvard, the reevaluation of dining hall hours is complicated by a complex relation of funding constraints. To fully address any such issue, the University needs to express a ready willingness to approach these institutional dilemmas with joint collaboration and commitment. Only with the clear commitment of the University and continued student education by the UC can HUDS hope to improve its services to students in this meaningful way.
In this and other initiatives, the UC commits to expanding the strong and honest dialogue with administrators about the realities of student lives. Harvard already offers students tremendous social, academic, and residential resources. The UC must focus on tailoring those resources to the schedules and needs of the students for whom they were created. We approach these issues with an expectation that the University can continue to recognize and acknowledge student lives as they are. Only then can we hope to fully benefit the lives of undergraduates at the College.
John S. Haddock ’05 is a social studies concentrator in Currier House. He is the vice-chair of the UC’s Student Affairs Committee.