Holiday haze: What’s the deal with the academic calendar

Of the countless weird quirks that separate St. Michael’s from other schools, there are none more mysterious than the academic calendar. It would appear that St. Michael’s has some sort of vendetta against granting federal holidays off, opting instead to pick a random day that suits their fancy. For instance, instead of celebrating President’s Day with the rest of the country on February 20, we have the previous Monday off. This unorthodox schedule definitely has its perks, such as getting an entire month off for winter break, but when it comes to lining up vacations with friends and families back home, it can be a real pain. In order to get to the bottom of this, I decided to talk to the guy directly involved in creating the academic calendar, David Barrowclough.

Barrowclough is the head of the Registrar’s office, where one of his many responsibilities is to draft up an academic calendar for the next couple years and send it off to Academic Affairs for approval. “Ideally, we want 15 weeks of class and 70 class days per semester,” he said, “We try to have a roughly equal amount of week days, which means we have to move around some holidays if it disrupts the amount of Mondays in a semester.” 

Fair enough, but why is it so important to have an equal amount of each week day? Turns out, it has a lot to do with the way classes are scheduled. “A lot of classes, especially science classes, have lab times on Friday or Monday, so holidays that land on those days might throw those teachers off. We try to spread out days off to account for that.”

I found myself wondering about the implications of running the calendar this way. It may be convenient for class times, but does the calendar have students’ best interests at heart? I ran into Valentina Rojas, a senior Political Science major, who was more than happy to tell me about her take on the academic calendar, “I just don’t get why we don’t have federal holidays like MLK Day or Veteran’s Day off when the rest of the country does.” So I once again reached out to Barrowclough. “Saint Michael’s College has a history of holding classes on Martin Luther King Day – it is typically a day of fruitful classroom discussion and an academic convocation.”  

I was also curious as to how professors feel about the academic calendar, so I reached out to Professor Millwood, a Psychology Professor with two young boys. “When classes are in session on a federal holiday, that creates a challenge for me because of my children having no school.  And, our spring break doesn’t correspond with either of the two week-long breaks my children get during the spring semester.” On days in which Millwood’s children have a day off that she doesn’t, she often has to hire a babysitter, or even take them to work with her. 

According to Barrowclough, “Making the academic calendar can be both frustrating and interesting. Spring break is especially hard to plan, as we’re aware that many professors have children whose breaks might not match up. We try to take these things into account, but it’s impossible to please everyone.”

At the end of the day, I’m left feeling conflicted about St. Michael’s weird academic calendar. On one hand, everything Barrowclough told me provided rational explanations for the choices in days off. On the other hand, it seems like the holiday schedule can be a real hassle for some students and professors, and most people are in the dark about why they have to come to school on a federal holiday. There’s definitely some room for improvement, so maybe it’s up to us to reach out and let the school administration know how we feel about the academic calendar.