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Stress Workgroup Urges Changes to Reading Period, Scheduling

By Michelle Denise L. Ferreol and Jared T. Lucky, Crimson Staff Writers

The Workgroup on Student Stress suggested a reevaluation of class scheduling and reading period in its recommendations submitted to College administrators two weeks ago, according to an interview with Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister on Thursday.

The Workgroup on Student Stress was convened by former Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds last November to propose ways to make undergraduate life less stressful. Pfister said that in light of discussions with Director of University Health Services Paul J. Barreira—who co-chairs the workgroup—it is likely that the committee will continue to meet indefinitely.

“I think we want to see this as an ongoing group that will have a kind of steering committee and some other committees working,” he said.

The 22 administrators, House Masters, faculty members, students, and health experts that make up the committee did the bulk of their work in the midst of a campus-wide discussion about mental health, sparked by a call from many in the College for the administration to reassess the state of student mental health.

Pfister said that while the administration has yet to tackle all of the Workgroup’s concerns,  some of the problems identified by the Workgroup were addressed independently by the University even before the committee submitted its recommendations.

He cited last spring’s changes to reading and exam period structure—which clarified the types of work that may be assigned during reading period and allowable deadlines for assignments—as an example. The changes also stipulated that professors may not assign new material when students are studying for final exams.

Pfister also said that the University’s transition to a campus partially based in Allston motivated the committee to consider in its recommendations what scheduling practices could create some “breathing room” in students’ days.

“There are various suggestions about where that breathing room could come from,” he said, noting that administrators are already considering how to potentially restructure students’ academic schedules.

Pfister said that administrators will attempt to address other issues discussed in the report, including an examination of the effects of extracurricular organizations on student stress.

“There’s a fair amount of discussion about extracurriculars, and how many we have, and how it is that the growth [of] student organizations and activities contributes to a stressful environment,” he said.

The committee will review its findings with House Masters in coming weeks, after which Pfister said the report may be made available to the public.

—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @michiferreol.

—Staff writer Jared T. Lucky can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jared_lucky.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: December 4, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of former Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds.

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