Princeton considers changes to Thanksgiving break schedule
Students and faculty may not have class this week in future years, depending on the results of focus groups currently being held by the University which deal with the possible extension of Thanksgiving break. The USG is conducting the groups in conjunction with the Office of the Dean of the College and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty at University President Shirley Tilghman’s request.
The discussion was prompted by data from the Academic Life Total Assessment and other USG surveys suggesting that students favor an extension of Thanksgiving break. The focus groups were designed to assess the feasibility of three potential changes to the current fall semester schedule.
According to Dean of Forbes College John Hodgson, who hosted a focus group in Forbes, one option is to give students the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off and begin classes one day earlier. Another option is to eliminate fall break and to have a full week off for Thanksgiving, while also having school begin on the third Monday of September, rather than the second Thursday. The last option also eliminates fall break, gives students a full week off for Thanksgiving and makes Columbus Day a long weekend, with classes beginning as usual on the Thursday in September.
It is unclear whether the potential changes would be implemented in the next academic year. Dean of the College Valerie Smith, who is coordinating efforts between the USG and the faculty, declined to comment before all of the focus groups had met.
The student focus groups will encourage students to evaluate the options based on their personal preferences. USG president Bruce Easop ’13 requested that participants fill out a survey prior to attending the meetings, asking them whether they stayed on campus for fall break and what they planned to do over Thanksgiving.
Easop said that data collected from the surveys will be published later on in the year, although no specific date has been set. The meetings are expected to run until winter break.
“The best option seems to be moving one day and having a three-day Thanksgiving break just because the Princeton community seems to have gotten used to the structure of their schedule and so change in general has its own costs,” said Neil Hannan ’15, who attended a focus group at Forbes College on Friday.
ALTA data collected in 2011 indicated that students were overwhelmingly in favor of including Wednesday in Thanksgiving break, according to former USG vice president and co-founder of ALTA Catherine Ettman ’13.
The option to have a weeklong break over Thanksgiving weekend in place of fall break may affect the accessibility of extracurricular opportunities that typically occur over fall break. During fall break, many students opt to participate in civic engagement trips through Breakout Princeton, do volunteer work in their local communities or get ahead on senior theses and junior papers. In addition, certain activities — such as a cappella groups and varsity sports teams — require students to devote their fall breaks to weeklong rehearsals or training sessions.
In the fall of 2011, Ettman included the issue of Thanksgiving break in her campaign for USG president. Ettman said that one of the problems with moving fall break to Thanksgiving weekend is that some students would lose the opportunity to participate in Breakout trips.
“Thanksgiving, people agree, is a family holiday,” she said. “So if you have a Thanksgiving break that’s combined with fall break, I know I personally would be inclined to just go home instead of having these amazing opportunities that have changed my Princeton career.”
Ettman, who is from Miami Beach, Fla., said she has never been home for Thanksgiving as an undergraduate because it is too expensive to fly out on Wednesday night and return Sunday morning. She said that by adding an extra day to Thanksgiving, there would be more flexibility for students with similar economic concerns.
According to Ettman, one ALTA finding showed that many students deliberately miss classes on Wednesday in order to gain an extra travel day. As a result, it is difficult for professors to predict attendance for that day.
“We know that some professors cancel their classes, but others don’t, and so we think that it would make more sense for this to be a unified policy,” Ettman said.
In order for scheduling changes to be made, the University requires approval from the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, which determines the academic calendar. Under the guidelines set forth by the Rules and Procedures of the Faculty, the academic calendar “may be changed from time to time by appropriate action of the Board of Trustees.”
The Office of the Dean of the Faculty declined to comment.
Easop emphasized that the USG plans on surveying a broad audience of students before any policy change is approved. He added that the USG will convene up to 12 student focus groups, while separate meetings will be held to gain feedback from the faculty.