Deciding academic calendar is not difficult process

Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor

In a mass e-mail, University Registrar John Papinchak announced last Tuesday that fall classes for next academic year will begin on Aug. 29, 2011, one week before Labor Day.

We would think that such a decision would be entirely reasonable and wholly unremarkable: The Monday before Labor Day is, as Papinchak wrote, the university’s “traditional start date.” However, last week’s announcement was only made after an extended period of feedback-gathering. The university’s original proposal for the 2011–12 academic calendar, circulated last May, had set the beginning of fall classes a week earlier, on Aug. 22, 2011, and was expected to have been approved in June. Since then, the schedule has been discussed by groups all across campus, ranging from student government assemblies to the Faculty Senate and the Associate Deans’ Council. And even though the university’s official start date has finally been set for next year, Papinchak indicated that another committee will be convened to further consider calendar “options” before any start date for the following two years is ratified.

Though we are not sure what other options the Carnegie Mellon administration has in mind, we do know that this decision should not require extensive committee discussion.

We realize that a later start to classes in August leads to a later end to final exams in December, in some years causing the final exams to stretch perilously close to year-end holidays. But we also know that the Gregorian calendar — the method most of the world has settled on for reckoning dates — is consistent. Since Labor Day is always the first Monday in September, that means that Carnegie Mellon’s usual start date will always fall between Aug. 25 and Aug. 31, and the last day of fall classes will normally fall between Dec. 5 and Dec. 11. If it is not desirable to have classes in session as late as Dec. 11, the fall start and end dates can simply be moved up a week in the appropriate years — as was in fact done in 2009 and 1998, the last two times a Dec. 11 schedule would have occurred. Indeed, with only seven standard start dates and seven standard end dates, Carnegie Mellon must only ever develop seven standard academic calendars. Determining the fall class schedule for any given year should be as simple as asking someone in Enrollment Services to pull out and reprint the appropriate version. Classes in 2005 began on Monday, Aug. 29, as will classes in 2011, and as should classes in 2016. The schedule that was advanced by one week in 1998 and 2009 can already be confirmed for use again in 2015.

While we appreciate the campus reaching out to students for feedback, we think that this issue has become more contentious than it needs to be. In the case of the academic calendar, a formulaic approach is the best choice.