Academic Calendar revision promises to improve student health

This past Wednesday, SGA and Joint Board met to discuss revisions to the academic calendar.
Due to wellness concerns within the student body, the academic calendar is hoped to be conducive to a more flexible curriculum. Though no specific measures have been proposed, it has been suggested that the college’s vacations could be redistributed over a given semester in an effort to ease stress.
A 2004 report on student anxiety at Grinnell identified stress as the biggest problem on campus. In 2007, the American College Health Association (ACHA) assessed Grinnell students’ stress levels and compared them with peer institutions. Studies found that Grinnell students were more stressed, exhausted and more affected by depression.
“I think [SGA President Harry Krejsa ’10] is looking for ways to address that to lessen the pace a little bit,” said Wellness Coordinator Jen Jacobsen ’95.
“Certainly not take anything away from the rigor of the institution.”
During fall semester, Grinnell has seven uninterrupted weeks of class before break in October. In the spring semester, there are eight uninterrupted weeks before spring break.
A comparative study by the Registrar’s office found that, nine out of twelve liberal arts schools observe at least one holiday in the first few weeks of semester. A correlation between the college’s stress levels and scheduling demands prompted the SGA resolution to review the calendar.
“We’re not producing any specific model for the faculty…because there are so many things that go into making the calendar as it is now that we don’t presume to be able to offer them an alternative model and say, ‘Okay, go do it,’” Krejsa said.
The academic calendar currently has strict parameters—14 weeks are set in the fall and spring semesters for classes, followed by a week of exams. In a 2004 letter to the S&B, Henry Walker, professor of Computer Science, noted that this was exceptional—typically, colleges hold 12-13 week semesters.
“For the most part they have fewer weeks of classes than we do,” Walker said. “Which means courses either have even more stuff packed into them, or you’re simply dropping out content.”
Further limits on the calendar are the holidays—the calendar sets two weeks for spring break, and one week for fall break. This constrains the fall semester, already bounded by winter break.
Making the desired adjustments without sacrificing the curriculum will prove to be challenging. If holidays cannot be redistributed, the extra days will have to be taken away from classes, which would marginally increasing student workload. Need a better intro to this quote.
“It is all very preliminary,” Krejsa said. “It’s all just saying, ‘We need to start talking about this…[it] is a problem’”.
Joint Board agreed to review the calendar resolution and vote on it next Wednesday. Whether or not revisions are decided upon, it may be a long time before they will take effect.
“We plan our academic calendar several years out…so I don’t know how soon a change like that could be made,” Jacobsen said.