July 13, 2017

Modified academic calendar to include longer summer break

Cornell faculty, staff and students prefer modifying the current academic calendar to lengthen the summer break and reduce the number of days in January before classes begin, but not moving Commencement to an earlier date.

This finding and others related to revising Cornell’s academic calendar are included in the Academic Calendar Committee’s final report, issued May 19. The committee’s recommendations have resulted in a Modified Current Calendar that has been approved by Provost Michael Kotlikoff and will go into effect for academic year 2018-19.

The Modified Current Calendar:

  • keeps Commencement on Memorial Day weekend but ends exams earlier than does the current calendar;
  • extends the August new student orientation period from three to five days;
  • starts fall semester instruction two days later than the current calendar;
  • identifies the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day, in accordance with Student Assembly Resolution 46 and Senate Resolution 126;
  • adds two class days after the Thanksgiving break;
  • decreases the winter break by three days – ending the fall semester two days later and starting the spring semester one day earlier; and
  • adjusts the dates for the two spring semester breaks.

The Academic Calendar Committee, co-chaired by Charles Van Loan, dean of the university faculty, and Rebecca Stoltzfus, vice provost for undergraduate education, first met in October 2016 to begin the periodic review of the academic calendar required by the 2013 faculty Senate Resolution 96. They were given two charges: to determine whether breaks (including the summer break) and study days were optimally positioned to bring out the best in students and whether it made sense to end the spring semester earlier to create more summertime employment and academic opportunities for students.

“The Academic Calendar Committee approached its charge carefully and inclusively, soliciting input from all Ithaca campus faculty, students and staff,” said Kotlikoff. According to the report, more than 1,000 comments were posted that related to specific calendar issues and more than 3,000 members of the Cornell community responded to a web survey. The committee also examined public school calendars and discussed possible impacts of calendar changes on child care concerns and religious practices.

The committee made “academically driven, data-based recommendations,” Kotlikoff said. They developed two potential calendars: a Modified Current Calendar alternative that maintains Commencement on Memorial Day weekend and an Early Commencement Calendar alternative that stages graduation two weekends earlier.

The committee then presented these two alternatives and the current calendar to the assemblies, the faculty Senate and the Senate’s Educational Policy Committee. All groups preferred the Modified Current Calendar to the Early Commencement and current calendars.

“The Modified Current Calendar and the Early Commencement Calendar both give many students more time in the summer to work, but the Modified Current Calendar is a positive compromise for those who care about both summer jobs opportunities for students and winter break research and travel opportunities for faculty and others,” said Van Loan. “It also maintains the current two spring break periods, while adjusting their dates to better accommodate the flow of academic work.”

The number of Senior Days – the days between the last exam day and the Friday of commencement weekend – will increase to five days, lessening current conflicts between senior events and study and exam days, he added.

The provost has announced that a separate task force to be led by the next vice provost for undergraduate education will be created to determine if it is feasible to further increase the length of the summer break so that it could accommodate a full semester of classes.

“A summer semester would afford students time for remediation, flexibility to study abroad and/or participate in meaningful internships/externships, or change majors without lengthening the time to degree completion,” Kotlikoff said. “It would also allow colleges to create comprehensive programs that enhance current academic offerings and could be a useful adjunct to faculty in balancing their teaching obligations with research responsibilities.”