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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sleep through lectures instead of seminar

Published: February 7, 2014
Section: Opinions

It’s a fairly common occurrence most mornings here at Brandeis; in the midst of a thought-provoking, major-changing discussion on how the word “inspired” used to mean to have something blown into you in Chaucer’s time and it traces to the term “respiratory,” such as the lungs, when you notice something. While you are trying your best to somehow make it to the end of class so you can go home and take a nap, the girl sitting across from you is asleep. Or her eyes are just closed trying to remember something from the reading last night.

She doesn’t have any make-up on and you remember she walked in with a cup of coffee and a banana. Obviously she’s sleeping, and hopefully, she wasn’t mistakenly given decaf instead of regular. Trying not to seem too suspicious and get her busted, you look over to the professor, who is still rambling on with the seminar on the third stanza of the general prologue from The Canterbury Tales. He must be aware that this girl is just passed out, and he must feel terrible about it; he doesn’t want to put anyone to sleep with his favorite Middle English verse. It’s Middle English verse, for crying out loud!

Everyone has fallen asleep in class, and the worst class to do so in is a seminar. Attendance is rarely mandatory for lectures, and the slides are always posted on LATTE after class. There is a reason why a classroom swells on exam day for a lecture. No one will wake up early to get to class if they can get the same material simply by finding the notes online. Seminars, on the other hand, typically don’t have cool slideshows or a lax attendance policy. After three absences, you usually wind up failing the course, so people still show up if they only got four hours of sleep the night before.

The worst part of it all is that in order to get the most out of a seminar, you have to be involved with the seminar. Even just to pass, you have to be involved in the seminar, so signing into class just to fall back asleep won’t do much good. Plus, you probably have some sort of interest in taking the class, or else you wouldn’t have enrolled, so it might be intriguing to actually hear and discuss the subject matter, unless you enjoy hindering yourself.

Yet this happens each and every semester—a seminar scheduled for the first thing in the morning. A simple solution would be to make sure not to sign up for any classes before noon, but that leaves you limited in what classes you can take. That 9:30 class you are thinking of taking looks really appealing, plus the professor is simply the best, and you want to hear what he has to say on the subject of colonizing Cyprus, so you almost have to take it. Then you remember you will have to wake up by 8 a.m. in order to make it on time in a decent state, and you dread every Tuesday and Friday the class meets, but you have to take enough classes to meet the requirement for the minor.

What would make things a lot easier is if the majority of lectures were scheduled in the earlier part of the day while seminars were strictly in the afternoon and evening. That way you can spend the whole day thinking, analyzing and dissecting the readings due that day and blow the professor away with a fantastic point. The class would always be focused on a great discussion based on the issues the author points out and neglects to mention. Discussions would certainly always go through the end of class and more students will stick around and head to office hours to get more insight. If seminars could take place when the students are properly caffeinated and focused, the professor would never have to worry about a student falling asleep.

One of the hidden benefits from all of this is the fact that more lectures would take place in the morning. Some of the lecture halls feature stadium-style seating where the chairs are cushioned and would be delightful to fall asleep in. No one would feel ashamed about falling asleep in class if they are able to hide away from the professor toward the back of the room, sitting behind a few other students. And you know how it helps a fetus’ development in the womb by playing Mozart and other classical music? I’m sure some of the same factors are in play when you are being lectured while falling asleep. It might be interesting to have dreams about the invasion of Poland while retaining the information and catching up on sleep the same time. Either way, if the slides are posted online after class, then there is no point in showing up for class.

Now some would say that there is no excuse to not be fully awake for a 9:30 class. In the real world, you need to be at work by 9, and most even start before that. Bakers get up at 3 for you to have a fresh bagel and lox so that you can be even later to class. But Brandeis doesn’t offer any baking classes the last I checked, and college students are on a different schedule than the rest of society. If we can stay up past midnight in order to get work done, watch Netflix and look at pictures of cats, we can get the benefit of not having classes until 11 the next morning.

If the registrar could offer one change for Fall 2014, it would be to schedule seminars later in the afternoon so that students can be active participants in the discussion and not just a sorry excuse for a zombie. It would benefit students greatly if the rarely mandatory lectures were scheduled earlier than the seminars. As for science students, who primarily take lectures and suffer through material denser than lead, good luck trying to make an 8 a.m. lecture.