The Need for Reading Days

This is it, Claremont. With the comfort of Thanksgiving break behind us and the thrill of the winter holidays beckoning, we’re rolling full speed ahead into the worst time of the year: early December.

These three weeks contain the same amount of hours as those that came before them, and we’re the very same students that sat in class for the last three months. Yet somehow, some of our professors seem to think otherwise. For them, this is the time to cram a semester's worth of (very valuable) work into a few short weeks.

We’ve got final papers to produce, presentations to give, and, of course, one more round of finals. Seniors have the omnipresent thesis thrown in the mix as well. And, of course, a good student always keeps up with her reading assignments. In these few weeks, everything seems to require all of our attention, all the time, and all at once. But hey, who doesn’t like a challenge?

If you know me, you know that I’m not one to shy away from a good challenge. But it can be tough to forge ahead knowing the odds are stacked against you. Such is the case at Claremont Mckenna College, Pitzer College, and Harvey Mudd College, with their surprising lack of reading days.

A quick scan of the respective academic calendars of the 5Cs reveals a number of similitudes: Classes begin Aug. 30, fall break comes Oct. 17, and final exams fall between Dec. 12 and 16—with one marked discrepancy: Pomona and Scripps’ classes end Dec. 7, marking the two days that follow as “reading days;'” CMC, Pitzer, and HMC’s classes end Dec. 9, and head right into final exams.

This divergence is problematic for a number of reasons.  

These two days prior to the start of the Claremont exam week madness provide students with much-needed time to prepare for finals. Not only do these free days allow students to study and do research, but they also provide a time in which all students are available to coordinate study meetings or attend office hours (which are often held during other classes).

Without them, professors assign normal work well into the semester’s waning days, leaving students to balance studying for exams against class workloads. This workload is not small: many humanities classes average a book a week of assigned reading. Multiply that times four, and it isn’t hard to see why the library’s 24-hour availability is so popular during finals week.  There just isn’t enough time in the day.

Reading days also provide students with an opportunity to properly manage skyrocketing stress. For a school that devotes so much time and energy to promoting its mental health programs, you’d think administrators would want to make a change that could really matter. Puppies and ice cream are nice, but what if we could actually sleep a few hours during exam week? Revolutionary.

The special nature of our consortium provides another predicament. The administrators at each school make a deliberate choice concerning reading days’ inclusion or lack thereof in their respective academic calendars. Such a choice (hopefully) involves careful consideration regarding what is best for both the success and health of their student body. Yet, in Claremont, where students are enrolled in classes across the 5Cs, these administrators lose control over such policies. Wouldn’t it make sense for the 5Cs to have a uniform policy regarding their students’ academic scheduling?

Moreover, if CMC and Pitzer administrators do not see the value in reading days, their own policies belie that. As is customary for the colleges, their spring 2017 academic calendars devote two full days to such activity. If administrators feel that students need this time in May, what changes come December? It’s possible there’s a rational explanation for this discrepancy, but I just don’t see it.

Class time is important. I’m not debating that. What I am debating is the notion that we can’t rearrange our syllabi to accommodate two reading days at the end of the semester, especially at a school in which academic calendars are made available four years ahead.

Unfortunately for students at CMC, HMC, and Pitzer, these calendars are set in stone—at least for this year. For now, get to the library early, grab that table on the second-floor bridge, and let the games begin. I’ll be right there with you.

Rachel Lang CM '17 is an International Relations major from the DC area. Love her points? Disagree? Shoot her an email at rlang17@cmc.edu.

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