According to a January 7, 1983 Maroon article, the two-day reading period at the end of every quarter was introduced by then–Dean of Students Herman Sinaiko in order to “educate both students and teachers that extra studying time between classes and finals is needed and beneficial.” While Sinaiko noted that the reading period seemed to be a success, he also acknowledged that “there were complaints and problems with professors scheduling exams and classes during reading days and thus defeating the purpose of the reading period for some students.” Thirty years later, the College still employs a two-day reading period, and some professors and instructors still schedule classes, exams, and due dates during this time. In order to allow students to do as well as possible on final exams and papers, reading period must be fully respected, and students should be given more comprehensive information on how to file complaints regarding infringements.
As per the College Web site, “Instructors and/or teaching assistants may hold review sessions on these days. However, no new material may be introduced, assignments may not be due, and final examinations may not be given (except as necessary for graduating students) during the reading period.” While optional early exams do not conflict with this policy, any non-optional class, exam, or due date falling during Thursday or Friday of 10th week renders reading period pointless.
According to an e-mail from University spokesman Jeremy Manier, “Students with concerns of this nature should contact the Dean’s office (the Dean of the College John Boyer or Associate Dean Martha Merritt).” While students should take advantage of this venue to seek redress, it’s troubling that there is not a more formal policy by which students can report reading period issues. The College should also inform students of the option to lodge a complaint with their Deans, as it is not very clear or self-evident. Northwestern, for example, outlines the student complaint process on the page of its Web site that pertains to reading period in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
As long as professors and instructors feel that abiding by reading period policy is optional, these two days at the end of every quarter will not live up to their intended purpose. While Harvard allows professors and instructors to hold class during reading period if they so choose, its reading period lasts eight days instead of two, leaving more time for students to study in spite of class conflicts. Yale adopts a similar policy, though it asks that all instructors state in their course listings whether they plan to schedule class during reading period. While Harvard and Yale leave the question of holding class up to the discretion of professors and instructors, both maintain that final exams are absolutely not to be held during reading period.
Whether the University opts to continue offering a relatively brief reading period or to lengthen the respite, one thing is certain: The current paradigm, wherein there seems to be little compliance with the ban on finals and the introduction of new material, is not acceptable in a two-day period. The University should stick with its current reading period and ensure that professors adhere to a strong policy of not scheduling classes, or it should add more reading days, like Yale and Harvard have done, to accommodate the variable needs of professors. The current incarnation of reading period, one which effectively incorporates the relaxed class policy of peer schools without the benefit of more days off, is simply unfair to students.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.