Cornell's faculty has voted to help reduce student stress. Quickly, the Student Assembly passed its own resolution in support.
At its March 9 meeting, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution discouraging professors from assigning extra academic work over breaks. The resolution passed with 42 in favor, two opposed.
"Faculty are urged to regard the breaks as a time for rest, not an opportunity for extended work," said Dean of the University Faculty William Fry. The resolution is meant as a "best practices" statement, but each faculty member will decide individually how or if to employ it, he said.
The resolution does not apply to work assigned at the beginning of the semester and due immediately after a break, said Bruce Levitt, chair of the senate's Educational Policy Committee, which presented the resolution.
"What we're trying to avoid is the assignment that comes up just a few days before break and is due immediately after break, when students can't anticipate that assignment and budget their time," said Levitt, professor of theater, film and dance. "We're also trying to reduce the stress that happens the week before break. Students' stress seems to be higher the week before break because they trying to get all their work done."
The resolution notes that student workloads have become an increasing cause of concern in relation to student mental health and stress, and that short breaks from academic requirements are intentionally included in the academic calendar to provide rest, respite and a break from schoolwork. "…While students are always expected to be prepared for class, framing assignments in such a way that necessitates academic work over Fall Break, Thanksgiving Break or Spring Break is strongly discouraged," the resolution says. "Students should be given sufficient time to carry out assignments and prepare for classes without being required to devote their breaks to such preparation."
The resolution asks the dean of faculty to remind the teaching staff at the beginning of the fall semester to refrain from assigning academic work over scheduled breaks. Fry e-mailed such a reminder March 16 in preparation for spring break, which starts March 19.
The Student Assembly (SA) applauded the Faculty Senate's vote in passing its own resolution the day after the vote. "This year on the Student Assembly we have taken great measures to work with administrators on addressing mental health and stress issues on campus. By passing this resolution right after the Faculty Senate, we hope not only to improve collaborations between the two governing bodies but also to help ease the burdens put on students throughout the academic year," said Natalie Raps '12, SA vice president for public relations.
The senate had considered a similar resolution at its Feb. 9 meeting but sent it back to the Educational Policy Committee to clarify the resolution's language and intent.
Fry, professor of plant pathology, said he very much favored the resolution. "Breaks should be for rest and rejuvenation. I certainly felt that way as a student, and I feel that way as a faculty member," he said.