Most colleges and universities are on the two semester system – a fall and spring semester plus various sessions in January and in the summer. When these semesters start, end, and have breaks is much less consistent. And especially when the calendar is tied to religious holidays, you are subject to great variation.
Last spring for example, both Easter and Passover were late. Consequently schools using the religious holidays as an anchor for scheduling spring break had a break very close to final examinations. Losing momentum in a class just before final exam doesn’t serve the needs of students or faculty. It is in the middle of the spring semester (just before the winter weather moderates) that a break may be most beneficial.
This fall, with the Jewish holidays almost immediately following Labor Day, many institutions had just a few days of classes before there was a significant break. Taken to an extreme, in the New York City public school system, classes began the Wednesday after Labor Day and then immediately there was a break until the next Monday. A one day start followed by an immediate two day stop is disconcerting for students, teachers, and parents. Did education actually take place during that day?
For institutions with a faith based orientation, a calendar reflective of that orientation makes sense. For the rest of us, given that we are enrolling an ever more diverse student body being taught by an ever more diverse faculty, we should carefully review the calendar. We need to respect all the faiths and traditions you find on a University campus. If a student or a faculty member cannot come to class because of a religious holiday, there need to be alternatives. A person’s faith should not have to be compromised. However that does not mean that the calendar needs to be constructed canceling classes during those holidays. To the extent possible the calendar should be constructed in support of the education we provide and those breaks that are scheduled in a semester should be scheduled when a break makes the most sense.