Shorter Thanksgiving break leads to student petition

The weeklong break has been reduced to accommodate a later Labor Day

Taylor+C.+Snow%2FCollegian

Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

As of Friday, Feb. 28, more than 5,000 people signed a petition calling for the University of Massachusetts to reinstate a full Thanksgiving break for the fall 2020 semester.

The calendar, which was approved by the Faculty Senate during the spring 2018 semester, is developed by a subcommittee and proposed by the Academic Matters Council. The Thanksgiving break is scheduled to begin after the end of classes on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Before Fall 2016, the University did not hold classes only on the holiday or the day after. In 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, an extended break was implemented. No classes were held between Monday and Friday, allowing students to leave the campus for over a week.

Despite the amount of signatures to the petition, University Registrar Patrick Sullivan said in an email, “At this late date, I do not foresee a scenario where the University will change the calendar for Fall 2020.”

Sullivan said the subcommittee chose the Tuesday as the final day of classes rather than the Wednesday to allow for an additional day of travel time for students. In the Fall 2021 semester, the Thanksgiving break will begin on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

David Morin, a graduate student who was on the AMC subcommittee, said the matter of Thanksgiving break was “discussed extensively” when the calendar was developed. According to Morin, the “most important thing” was to have the same number of each weekday schedule throughout the semester.

“Once the idea of starting before Labor Day was rejected, the reduced Thanksgiving break, I think, was the best option,” Morin said.

The University traditionally begins the fall semester after Labor Day, a federal holiday on the first Monday in September. In 2020, Labor Day falls on Sept. 7, the latest possible date.

“There was a lot of opposition to starting the semester before Labor Day,” Morin said.

Sullivan said a post-Labor Day start is the “standard” of the academic calendar: “There are several obstacles to an earlier start including schedule coordination with the Five Colleges.”

Smith College, Hampshire College and Mount Holyoke College will have the same Thanksgiving break as UMass; only Amherst College has the full week off in 2020.

In fall semesters where Labor Day is later, there are not enough available weekdays before Christmas Eve to accommodate 65 class days, state holidays, a reading day, five days of finals, a snow day and a full week at Thanksgiving, Sullivan explained.

“This led to the shortening of the Thanksgiving break by two days, as it really was the only feasible option available,” Sullivan added.

Morin said, “Also, there was talk of having final exams on the final Saturday or Sunday and that idea was rejected.”

Out-of-state students who signed the petition said the change would greatly affect their travel plans. 23 percent of the undergraduate student population in fall 2019 was from outside of Massachusetts.

“I only go home on the larger breaks since I am from Long Island, New York,” Alana Zeilander, a journalism undergraduate said. Her trip home takes up to six hours as there is no direct bus. “This whole day affair makes the trip not worth it for me unless I will be home for a longer period of time.”

“I think that the university should follow others and start classes in mid-August or the beginning of September,” Zeilander said when asked whether ending later in the semester would be preferable.

Another undergraduate student who signed the petition, Caroline Smith, agreed with Zeilander, saying that Sept. 8 was a very late start date. A native of Maryland, Smith heard about the petition from a friend and decided to sign it because she felt having a longer Thanksgiving break was necessary.

“I only really go home during each break, three times during the school year,” Smith said. “The drive is seven hours which is too long to go home for a random weekend.”

“I enjoy the long break because it is one of the few times I get to see my family,” Smith said. “Having many days in between the time that I drive home and the time that I drive back ensures I am well rested and mentally prepared for my journey.”

In his email, Morin said the calendar committee has been “very behind-the-scenes” in his experience, noting an attempt to reduce the add/drop period from two weeks to one week.

“I stopped that once I found out by coordinating with SGA leadership,” Morin explained, pointing out there was no student representation at the meeting where the add/drop period was discussed. “…We were able to block the reduction in the Academic Matters Council.”

“My recollection is that I was the only student present on the Calendar Committee when the reduced Thanksgiving break was discussed,” Morin added.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @KathrineEsten.