The spring semester may only be at its halfway point, but Penn has set the calendar for the next academic year. For the Council of Deans, establishing the calendar so far in advance is standard operating procedure. Each year, the undergraduate deans assemble and prepare a calendar that they then propose to the Office of the Provost for approval, while taking students’ opinions into account during the process. The process is refreshingly multifaceted, and the potential calendar goes through multiple stages before being approved.
Just a quick glance at the 2016-17 calendar, however, reveals a notable change: Next year’s winter break will be five days shorter than it was this year.
In 2015, the fall semester ended on Dec. 18, and the spring term began on Jan. 13. Next year, fall exams will end later — on Dec. 22 — and students will return for classes on Jan. 11.
Of course, some variation in the calendar from year to year is inevitable. The calendar must shift to some extent to accommodate changes that occur with the natural passage of time, such as adding a day to February during a leap year. It’s also true that the University is not completely free to determine the length of the academic year. Penn must abide by certain state regulations, which require that a minimum number of educational hours must be met.
Regardless, it is still a bit troubling that the break between the fall and spring terms will be decreasing. Considering the level of stress that Penn students experience during each semester, a winter vacation of a considerable length is not only warranted, but also beneficial for our mental health.
While we understand the need for a summer break long enough to allow for internships of substantial length, there is also something to be said for allowing students to decompress from school and work between fall and spring semesters. A shorter winter break benefits no one.
In comparison to other Ivy League institutions, Penn is already on the lower end when it comes to the length of winter break. Cornell undergraduates, for example, will end their 2016 fall term on Dec. 17, and return for spring classes on Jan. 25.
While in the meantime, Penn must comply with state law, perhaps it is time to bring these concerns — giving students enough time away from the stresses of college life — to the state level.
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