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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Professors need to respect student vacations

Published: January 17, 2015
Section: Opinions

Vacation. A rarity for college students, the vacation lasts for three or so weeks between fall and spring semesters and three months over the summer. After college, the prolonged vacation becomes even rarer than a $3 bill or even finding Santa on Christmas Eve. It is supposed to be a time to recharge, relax and binge watch shows one would never usually watch due to sheer boredom. Unless you are a senior working on a college thesis, in which case I send my sincere condolences, students do not need to do academic work on the break.

Shortly after the new year, I received an email from a professor. It was not my advisor, so I wondered why this person wanted to talk to me. It was a professor for a class taught this semester, assigning work to be done for the first day of class. Although I fortunately had the ability to immediately unenroll from the class—a benefit of being a second-semester senior done with his majors and minors—this email led to a puzzling thought: Why do professors do this? Why do they treat the vacation for students as two extra weeks of class time? What are the effects of doing this at a school where shopping periods last longer than a zombie killing spree on “The Walking Dead”?

The benefit is that most of the soliciting emails for classwork happen after Christmas; vacation is seen as Christmas and class prep time. Despite the fact that Christmas lasts until Epiphany on Jan. 5, society sees the stretch after the holiday as Valentine’s Day prep time. Assuming our professors don’t care about our love lives, this can’t be the case. So why do professors assign homework over vacation like we are in high school? The shopping period is why.

Shopping periods, or that glorious system to bail out of that boring stats class you realized you didn’t need to take, are insanely hard on professors. For us students, it’s brilliant. For professors, less so. Imagine you are a mailman for an apartment building and you have 30 mailslots to stuff mail in. Now, imagine three or four tenants left and the landlord is being lazy. So you also assume laziness and stuff the extra mail into the next few slots. The amount of mail is the same, but the mail distribution is unequal to what it should be. Shopping periods are hard on professors, because it is morally disheartening to professors when class lists go from 50, to 45, to 40, to 30, to 20 and finally to 10. When people experience rejection on this scale, they either harden their hearts or take it personally. Older professors harden their ears against it; younger professors don’t. Because of the emotional toll and the extensive coursework needed to be covered, professors need to treat shopping period as the two weeks of class it actually is. So while the students benefit, it is dead time to professors.

To gain and make the time valuable for class work, professors push back into vacation time by assigning work. This does three things. First, it weeds out those seriously considering the class from those who are not. By assigning the work, it makes students think: “I’m being graded on this. I should do it.” Those who do will lead into the second reason: Classes are held to their full potential from the beginning. Professors don’t treat classes in the first two weeks as advertising; they assume all are there for them … I mean, the attractive academic material, ranging from Disney films to trash to social justice saccharine hippie feed. The third reason it is done is to keep their classes going. Classes that have fewer than four students cannot function by the Registrar’s standards, due to lack of funding at a school where tuition that pays for classrooms is the highest in Massachusetts. In assigning work before the semester, professors get the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students excited and get disenchanted kids who actually wanted to go to class before making a choice.

In all seriousness, even with the shopping period, classes need to realize vacation time is vacation time. We need to relax and say stupid things to our family members. The shopping period needs to be shortened so that professors do not have to push work into vacation to ensure high class standards. As students, we do not understand how rare these vacations are and how soon we will lose them. Do not do academic work during winter vacation. The only work you should be doing during break is choosing classes for the next semester. After you’ve ordered the books or got your schedule updated in SAGE, go enjoy yourself. After this, it’s work for 40 years. Enjoy it while you can.