The Jury needs to rest: Looking at Brandeis and its “breaks”
There is a familiar feeling of anticipation leading up to winter and spring school vacations. However, Brandeis seems to disregard the notion that its hard-working students should actually be able to enjoy their well-deserved time off.
While the early months of the fall semester can seem nice due to the days blocked off for Jewish holidays, for most students these “breaks” are not actual breaks. Some professors assign the same amount of work, if not more, and for students who observe these religious holidays, completing the assigned work over the break is not feasible, impacting their participation and performance in academics. Departments and professors tend to assume that when students have days off for holidays, they have extra time to work on assignments. These days, in reality, are either used by students to observe the holidays or to catch up on work, and rarely are used as a time for self-care or respite. There is typically a heavier workload during these “breaks” to compensate for missing classes.
By the time we reach November, students are burnt out, exhausted, and are in desperate need of downtime. Students should be able to relax during their vacations, whether that be here at Brandeis or in their own homes. Instead, professors treat November break as additional time for students to work on final projects and papers, most of which are not even assigned until the last few classes before break. Between packing and travel time, the Thanksgiving break in late November is barely long enough for out-of-state students to visit home, if they so choose, and is certainly not long enough for international students to go home. As such, professors should not set the expectation for students to work on new assignments during their already short vacation.
Regardless of the inconvenient timing of breaks, professors and departments set expectations of how much work should be completed over breaks. The breaks we get should be a welcome opportunity for students to rest before returning to the high demand of their academic course load and extracurricular activities.
Brandeis has updated many breaks within the 2023-2024 academic calendar. This year, the most shocking modified break is that of winter vacation. Winter break usually approximates around four weeks, but this year winter vacation has been reduced to three weeks, with finals ending Dec. 20 and the spring semester beginning Jan. 10. In the past academic year, winter break started on Dec. 19. and ended on Jan.17.
The timing of the winter break affects many people on campus. The later winter break starts, the more expensive travel becomes, as students are competing with holiday demand prices. Many students do not live in the Boston area and may have to fly or take a train. These various modes of transport are not cheap, especially around major holidays because of the inherent price increase. This additional, unnecessary financial burden creates yet another barrier for students to travel home and be with their families.
Students are not the only ones that are affected by this updated schedule. The fall 2023 exams end on Dec. 20, with final grades due from professors on Dec. 27. This poses a challenge for professors who wish to go out of town or observe the holidays as fall semester grades are due just two days after Christmas. One professor told a member of this editorial board that because grades are due so late this year, they already told their family that they would not be able to attend Christmas due to the way the schedule worked out. Winter break especially is meant to be a time where both students and faculty can have a reprieve between the fall and spring semesters. Grade deadlines should not prevent faculty from spending the holidays the way they want to.
In the spring semester, Brandeis usually gives its students a February and an April break. Time off in April is often treated like Brandeis’ spring break; the purpose of this is to give those who wish a chance to observe Passover. For students who observe Passover, the time off is partly taken up by celebrations, but this board would like to acknowledge that Jewish students are not obligated to miss class for the holiday at Brandeis while they are at other schools. The University has provided a small, two day break in March to make up for what would be two straight months of classes, but students will still burn out despite the four day weekend.
That being said, this board is grateful for the week off in February. Given how late the University’s spring break tends to be, it’s good to have a week where there are no religious holidays and students are able to take time off. With the February and Passover breaks, we get about two weeks off in the spring semester, while spring breaks at other schools are typically one week.
Students and faculty alike need time to recharge and visit family and friends. The Brandeis schedule makes this challenging. This board encourages members of the Brandeis administration to have compassion for both students and faculty when creating the academic schedule, and for professors to be considerate and reduce workloads during breaks.