In response to student and faculty dissatisfaction with the two-days-on, two-off reading week schedule for fall semester final examinations, the University’s academic calendar will return to a consecutive four-day reading week starting in fall 2010. Approved by a faculty vote on Nov. 11, the change will also allow final examinations to be administered on Saturday mornings and afternoons.
Starting next fall, classes will end on the first or second Friday of December so that the reading week will start Saturday and go through the following Tuesday afternoon. Exams will start that evening and continue through the next Saturday afternoon. No exams will be administered on Friday evening to accommodate religious observance.
Scheduling final examinations on Saturdays poses a problem for students who observe the Jewish Sabbath as part of their religious observance and do not do work Friday night through Saturday. Jared Gimbel ’11, a self-identified observant Jew, expressed frustration with the new policy.
“I can understand if they do a movie screening on a Friday night or Saturday,” Gimbel said. “But something required of all students should not be similarly inclined.”
If religious observance prevents students from taking finals on Saturday, they will be able to work with faculty to make necessary adjustments according to Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley. Jeremy Zwelling, Director of the Jewish and Israel Studies Certificate Program and Associate Professor of Religion, pointed out that the calendar must serve a number of interests as well as limitations.
“The Saturday exam is not the happiest of solutions, but provisions are made and flexibility encouraged so that Sabbath-observing students (and faculty) can avoid taking or giving an exam on the Jewish Sabbath,” Zwelling wrote in an e-mail to The Argus.
According to the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) winter 2008 survey, 81.3 percent of 553 respondents indicated that the two-on, two-off schedule would negatively affect their ability to prepare for exams.
“I think the reading schedule with two and two not only broke up a sense of having time to study at all, but it seemed to only benefit those kids who were having too many finals in two days and there were already systems in place to help them,” said Angus McCullough ’10.
President Michael Roth also agreed that the two-on, two-off schedule put many students at a disadvantage.
“Last year, the idea that we were breaking up reading week to break up too much partying was unfair to students who were actually focusing on studying and finishing their papers,” Roth said.
After taking into account direct complaints from students and the surveys’ results, the Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) of the WSA, chaired by Jeff Stein ’10, decided to push for a return to the four day block schedule. Stein raised the issue with the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), which he sits on with one other WSA member, six members of the faculty, and Provost Joseph Bruno.
“The main issue was getting to a four day consolidated reading week,” Stein said. “For the students on the committee that was the first priority. Many of the faculty members shared our concerns, particularly in the sciences. They saw students having greater difficulty during exams with the two-on, two-off schedule.”
Dean Mike Whaley, who sat in on discussions about the schedule, felt that the return to a block reading schedule was student-driven.
“The only concern that I had was that the staggered reading days prevents the situation where you have exams on the weekend,” Whaley said. “But the WSA felt that it was more important to have all the reading days grouped together before the finals period started.”
According to Stein, if the calendar kept a contiguous reading week schedule and did not allow final exams to take place on Saturdays, the reading week would need to be shortened to two to three days in total.
“We could eliminate Saturday exams, and then have three days of reading week or two days of reading week,” he said. “We look at what students desire most academically and it’s our [the WSA’s] view that that’s the most days of reading week possible.”
According to University Registrar Anna van de Burg, other Universities have already set the precedent for final exams on weekends: Yale University and Brown University both conduct exams on Saturdays.
Whaley and van de Burg were also looking to adjust the academic calendar in light of the shortened Freshmen Orientation schedule set to go into effect next fall due to budget cuts.
“I don’t think we got the perfect solution, but I think we made significant improvements from the two-on, two-off system, which everyone agrees was bad for students,” said WSA president Mike Pernick.