Though the spring semester has just begun, the Office of the University Registrar is already looking ahead at next year’s academic calendar. On Friday, Jan. 31 Hopkins announced plans to implement a University-wide calendar in an email.
The main updates detailed in the announcement include adding an extra week to each semester, extending Fall Break by one day and beginning and ending classes on new days of the week. The main goal of the email, however, was not to inform students about these changes. Instead it was to ask for student feedback on several proposals for a changed finals period. A link was included to a survey which features questions about the fall and spring finals proposals, along with a comment box for any additional questions or concerns.
We are glad that Hopkins is reaching out to students and asking for our thoughts, especially given the impact these changes will have on student life. Some of these updates are ones which the entire undergraduate population will be happy to hear about. Extending Fall Break is the most obvious student pleaser: We are thrilled to hear that we will have an extra day to our annual three-day weekend.
The updates will also accomplish some of the goals that Hopkins outlined in rearranging the calendar. As the email explained, all Hopkins institutions will operate under one University schedule. The hope is that “this alignment will make it easier for students to pursue joint degrees that span our academic units,” such as undergrads who take classes at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. We are also pleased that Hopkins is “tak[ing] into account issues of mental health and wellness” in reorganizing the schedule. They cite the Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-being from 2018 as something they have tried to take into account when making these changes.
However, we find it confusing that Hopkins framed such important information in what appears to be a regular email. Students received the email last Friday afternoon, at a time when most are wrapping up classes and preparing for the weekend. While the message was “sent with High importance,” we wonder why they chose to send it at a time that does not have high opening rates. This, along with the short window for responses — less than a week, with the survey closing today — makes it seem as though Hopkins is not truly prioritizing students in these decisions.
Additionally, the email itself was confusing. There was no sample calendar, and the calendar currently available online does not reflect these changes. This schedule was posted weeks ago with no formal announcement. This online posting was then listed as an official schedule from the Office of the University Registrar and not just a draft as it is now titled.
As a result, students had to piece together the information to understand the effects of these updates. We also don’t understand why Hopkins didn’t mention more explicitly the most major change of all, which is an extra week of classes added to each semester.
We believe that students should have been told about these proposals earlier on in the process. It also hasn’t been easy for students to give feedback: We don’t believe that the onus should be on students to decode the changes that will be happening to our schedule in less than a week. Making the email difficult to comprehend only makes it harder for students to have informed opinions.
Hopkins is also only asking for our input on the finals schedule, and while they provided a place for comments and concerns, they did not explicitly ask for feedback on any other changes. We believe that Hopkins should have sought more student input in the process of deciding other changes aside from those that will create a new finals schedule. After all, we are present for more than just our exams and papers — we could help suggest how we’d best like to arrange breaks throughout the year.
Our biggest issue, however, is that the University has not fully explained why they have chosen to make these specific changes. The email notes that the aim is to unify all campuses, but does not elaborate on how this will specifically help students. Additionally, it does not explain how the new calendar takes students’ mental health and wellbeing into account.
It’s reassuring that Hopkins is trying to prioritize the needs of students by asking for our opinions. We’re glad that students are now being included in this decision process. However, we think that for any future changes that significantly impact student life, Hopkins should prioritize giving more time for feedback, clarifying the content of their emails and being more transparent on why these kinds of changes are happening. This affects all of us, and we’d appreciate being part of the conversation from the beginning.