After reading both “Administration attempts to curb student drinking” and “Tweaks in next semester course offerings won’t stop the party” last week, it struck me that there are two main problems with the criticism against the administration’s initiative to create a more homogenous class schedule to avoid three-day weekends and a perceived campus-wide drinking problem. First, I think there’s a slight misperception around the infringement on research and academic freedom, as I believe Chris Cheek voiced his criticism of this initiative. Second, there also seems to be a misperception about what rights the university has to constrain students’ abilities to choose which classes to enroll in, based on their expectations of what they are actually doing here at the university, getting a degree vs. having the “college experience.”
I am a graduating senior, who this semester benefited heavily from a three-day workweek to complete my research for a Departmental Honors Thesis in Philosophy, attend a conference, as well as keep up with a part-time job. I do not advocate a complete avoiding of three-day weekends, as there are some definite purposes to having fewer classes in order to pursue other kinds of scholarly or extra-curricular activities. I am a living example of this.
However, I do want to point out that there is some definite legitimacy to wanting to have a more homogenous workweek, of which curbing alcohol abuse is really only an accidental feature. I would stress that this kind of restructuring could help form a better student-teacher, as well as student-student, community in centering regular activities around curricular aspects rather than extra-curricular frivolity, or solitary academic pursuits, which only affect a narrow portion of the overall community here. Academic research is important, and there is no point in denying this. I will be going to graduate school for philosophy, and I can hardly think of any field that has to justify its commitments to research vis-Ã -vis its teaching commitments to the broader scholarly community more than philosophy, at least in its more technical varieties. Nor will I deny that students should have some freedom in choosing what classes they should have the liberty to choose, as this is part of any development towards achieving autonomy in one’s relations to the community that one is a part of.
The main problem with the critiques is that they ignore a fundamental aspect of what this university is supposed to be: an undergraduate teaching institution. Whatever this means, the baseline goal and criterion should probably be the focus on undergraduate teaching, in the sense that it is neither teachers’ research interests, nor individual’s interests, that should dictate how liberal the scheduling procedures should be as a whole. As an institution, the university has an interest in at least setting the ideal for what the student-teacher community should be, as well as implementing some of the policies that would direct activity in this general direction. Of course this means that there will be some outliers who will choose to pursue other avenues of gratification on days other than the weekends. The point, however, is that the university is not a place where teachers get the opportunity to pursue whatever research interests may animate them, nor a place where undergraduates get to pursue whatever “college experience” is supposed to be in the right of passage to becoming an adult, sadly, college at this point is little more than the function of acquiring a piece of paper that specifies some academic qualification. Most of the examples cited in the rebuttals to the effectiveness of scheduling an actual five-day workweek reference demands and needs of relatively select portions of the entire student body, I cannot speak of the teachers here. But one cannot expect to legislate over a student body of roughly 15,000 and expect every special minority to be adequately treated with their special requirements. This does not mean that these portions of the student-body will be forced to conform to a certain standard, just as much as little as instituting five-day weekdays will stop alcohol-consumption on Thursdays.
Also, if the university is going to deal with broader problems, such as drug abuse and rape, it may be helpful to acknowledge that this is not just a collection of problems, but a cluster that amounts to a bigger problem. Now what the bigger problem is may be hard to pin down, but it certainly has something to do with a lack of expected direction the students are supposed to focus their energies. If changing scheduling means that we can signal to students that we actually expect them to be students, and not just adolescent migrants on their way to becoming adults, virtually by accident, then there we have an institutional justification for changing scheduling policies. That the university has a right to do this is evident, and, if my analysis of why the university should be doing this is right, it should do this as well. That some of the specifications of how this is to be done needs to be taken into consideration so as not to harm the interests of the more specialized communities is also evident.