Monday, April 18, 2011
Seasonal Academic Disorder
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?
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.
Oh wow! That sounds easy enough! And I've been worried ;-)
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.
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