With the 2018 University commencement exercises scheduled a week earlier than usual, there could be major implications for departments and programs, according to Prof. Ellen Wright (PSYC). 

Due to a conflict with Shavuot, a Jewish holiday, the University has decided to hold the 2018 commencement on May 13, according to an email to the Justice from Interim Senior Vice President for Communications Judy Glasser. Commencement is typically held the Sunday before Memorial Day every year. 

“The choice was to have commencement either on Mother’s Day or Memorial Day weekend, both of which would have had an impact on students, faculty and staff,” Glasser wrote. “Moving the date for Commencement to May 13, 2018 was considered the best option.” She added that the University will revert to its typical scheduling for 2019. 

Glasser also noted that the academic calendar is developed by the University registrar, which must ensure that the University meets the requirements established by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the University’s accreditation body. This applies to the number of days of instruction, taking into account holidays and breaks, Glasser wrote. 

In order to accommodate the earlier commencement date, the University will be starting the spring 2018 semester a week earlier, on Jan. 10, and will end the final exam period on May 8. 

However, this condensed schedule could pose some problems for faculty members, according to Wright. “One of the things I find really inexplicable is that there are exams on May 8, but we are also required to have our department degree meetings on May 8,” Wright said in an interview with the Justice. 

She explained that during these meetings, departments decide which students qualify for a degree and which students will be getting departmental honors. “We can’t do that without knowing what grades they got, and if they’re still taking exams, there’s no way to know about that,” she said, later adding, “It will, in some ways, potentially dismantle the procedures that we use in our department for next year.”

She added that the earlier end date could also give faculty members incentive to not give final exams in an effort to get students’ grades calculated on time. “It’s been framed to the faculty as a ‘difficult’ situation that’s going to make spring hard, but it doesn’t seem even feasible. … It interferes with the pedagogy,” she said. 

Wright also noted the impact that the earlier commencement date could have on rising seniors. “There’s the separate issue of the students themselves not getting to have senior week. I mean, in essence, senior week is not going to start until [that] Wednesday,” she said. “I know from being here ... that students really look forward to senior week. … The opportunity for that connection is really important.”

She also emphasized the importance of student voices in this discussion, urging rising seniors to reach out to the administration. 

Glasser wrote in her email to the Justice that the University has received “a few” complaints about the change, but she said that the sentiment has not been widespread. 

“Had we scheduled graduation for Memorial Day weekend, we believe that this would be even more disruptive to families and impacted scheduling of summer school,” she added.

Wright suggested a weekday commencement as one potential solution to the conflict. “I understand the issue, and it’s not that I don’t feel sympathy,” she said. “I just think that there has to be some way of managing this so that some of the major issues can be dealt with. … I think that there are other workarounds than making the spring semester difficult.”