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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Winter break shortened compared to previous years

Published: December 7, 2012
Section: Features

In years past, including last winter, spring semester started after Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the typical student. Instead, this year, residence halls reopen on Sunday, Jan. 13, just in time for spring classes to begin the Monday before the holiday.

According to Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer, important Brandeis academic calendar dates and breaks are planned several years in advance, under the supervision of the University Registrar, Mark Hewitt.

Mark Hewitt “has a very difficult time, because there are lots of stressors on the formulation, including outside-agency-mandated number of class days, religious holidays, two breaks in the spring, et cetera. Hence, the calendar tends to be slightly different from year to year,” Sawyer said.

This means planning a schedule that accommodates the Jewish holidays, which gave students five weekdays off this fall, and the holidays that close all universities, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

From an administrator’s perspective, an earlier start to spring semester is good for programming.

“From a student life perspective, we like it when the second semester starts prior to Martin Luther King Jr. Day so that we can program around it,” Sawyer said. “This year the fall semester goes a little deeper into December than everyone would prefer, but that has to do with getting in the proper number of class days. When we go this deep into December, it does tend to feel like a short break. I don’t think (a short break) is harmful, it just feels short. Longer breaks might mean more travel opportunities for students, maybe even some short term employment.”

Hewitt insisted that an earlier start date for the semester does not have an impact on the final exam dates for spring.

“Deadlines do shift a bit earlier, but the early start date does not change their relation to the start of the term. Registration still ends on the 10th day of instruction,” he said. “Finals are not affected as they fall after the Passover break and their scheduling is really determined by the date of Commencement, always the Sunday of the weekend before Memorial Day weekend.”

Student opinions vary between first-years and sophomores, for whom the length of break has stayed mostly the same, and juniors and seniors, who are unhappy with having a shorter break than they once did.

The break is also much shorter for the student athletes who play winter sports. Men’s and women’s basketball players already return on Dec. 29 and 31, weeks before most students in order to start training, so their winter break will be even shorter this year.