Monday, April 18, 2011


Seasonal Academic Disorder

One of my colleagues calls this month “Hatepril.”

It’s an awful time. With the academic year in the final stretch, nearly everybody is fried. The faculty are tired and cranky, and not at their best; the students are tired and scared; the administrators are overscheduled to within inches of our lives.

The killer stretches always occur at the same times of year: the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas rush and the mid-April to mid-May slog. I’ve been through them enough times now to know that they come and go, but they’re still exhausting. The trick is to remember that stretches like this end, and that this is not the time to do anything regrettable.

I’ve never been a fan of the quasi-agrarian calendar for colleges. Yes, it’s important to have down time, but giving everybody the same down time also means giving everybody the same crunch time. (It also means having students compete for jobs at the same time as everybody else.) There may well be something to be said for some sort of two-out-of-three seasonal cycle. But we’re not there yet.

This is when the various end-of-year celebrations and performances occur in rapid-fire sequence. Each is wonderful individually, and it’s a pleasure to see students and professors enjoying their successes. But the accumulation is powerful. It’s also when the conversations at meetings tend to be the most strained. Deadlines loom everywhere, and even the most level-headed people are getting a little frazzled. I’ve seen some normally sane people act wildly out of character of late; it’s just how this time of year goes.

At least with the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas rush, the rest of the world shares the sense of panic. But this time of year, academics are significantly out-of-step with the rest of the world. This one is just us.

Wise and worldly readers, have you found a reasonably effective way to deal with seasonal academic disorder?

Here are some sample cover letters..

Cover Letters
1) The problems you describe, and many that we experience at my college, are created by management decisions to add deadlines that overlap with things we absolutely must do, such as grade our classes.

2) When the time management is under my control, I deal with those things by doing them over Spring Break.

3) I don't think it is technically feasible to fit three equal length 14+1 (let alone 15+1) semesters into a calendar that includes a Christmas break and a Spring break. The best institutional solution I have seen is a system of 4 equal-length 10+1 quarters, although I have never seen a system that treats these equally so a full-time load could be taught winter through summer or spring through fall. That calendar has room for 1 week of prep/registration (now mostly electronic) plus a few weeks of holidays and includes more class days than the "semester" we use at my college.

4) Don't overlook the opportunity for LMAO at stuff like the 4:36AM spam comment on this blog ... or people who have it worse, like the folks at the group blog whose initials are CM.

inf) I have no idea what is agrarian, or even quasi-agrarian, about any of the calendars in use by schools and colleges. There is no connection between the "summer" period when schools scale back and farm or construction activity, or even Summer, for that matter. It is all driven by holidays, both secular and quasi-religious. The most important of these is the start of football season, and the need to have students on campus for its start in August.
Pray and Endure
CCPhysicist: Dartmouth College has a calendar similar to what you describe. They make it work by requiring all students to attend the summer after their sophomore year.
This is crunch time. This is also the week that local school systems have their Spring Break. Thus, everyone who has school-aged children is out. Which is totally understandable (it will be the case for me, too, in a few years, so I can hardly complain) but makes it even harder to meet those deadlines. I'm with DD that there is little sanity in this calendar.
Although I'm pretty busy this time of year with my kids' spring activities (I only really have one child old right now enough to have a bunch of activities, like ice skating and ballet recitals and First Communion, so maybe my opinion will change as my preschoolers get older), the winter rush is much, much worse for me. As a mother of three young children who pretty much also negotiates all the holiday tasks (buying most of the presents, sending the holiday cards, planning the holiday events), it's just too much. Throw in the fact that my CC has decided for the past two years that 12/23 is a good day for the last day of finals, and it's just insanity.
Ok, the idea of a short semester that's junior/senior only is actually really evocative. That's clever.
I have completely given up on Christmas presents. My relatives who are children get money and my relatives who are adults get macadamia nuts. If I had kids, I'd probably change the rules, but that's it.
This is also the time when administrators realize, "Oh gosh! We need to get ONE MORE MEETING of the _____ Committee in before the end of the school year!"
A bunch of students on the job market at the same time is actually not a big deal. Students who graduate early (say, one semester early) tend to confuse hiring managers who do most of their entry-level hiring in the summer. In fact a lot of entry-level people I know (all upper classes obviously) are so used to taking the summer off before they start their first real job, that many companies don't hire entry-level professionals until the fall. So that just makes it even more difficult for those who had the audacity to graduate early.
It mostly works for me, actually, but that's probably because I keep a good-sized garden. Now that my cold crops are all in the ground, I'm completely ready to get through this final stretch and be done. The schools around here also have a schedule that's fairly similar (i.e., my kid has a March break and is in school this week, apparently unlike half the country). Her school and my college usually start the same week in the fall; I'll end a couple of weeks before her but we'll both be done before June.
"this is not the time to do anything regrettable."

Oh wow! That sounds easy enough! And I've been worried ;-)
Campus-wide IT decided to add to the April festivities by bringing down every. single. financial. system. for entire an entire week, then bringing half of them back up with entirely new software.

Oh, and this is when we get almost daily visits by junketing Chinese delegations from the same institutions we politely refused connections with last year.

Did I mention that our entire state political system is at war with education? No?

So, no, I have no advice for anyone other than hunker down and drink up.
I like the semi-agrarian calendar. Long may it last.
Ben You are right, its really very difficult time to take an action.

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