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?