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Professors manage to take the 'break' out of Fall Break

Religious Studies Prof. James Childress smiled from behind his desk. "I don't think I could, in good conscience, schedule an exam right after the Fall Break," he said.

If only all professors shared the pure conscience of Childress. The reality is that for students, tests often come at the worst possible times -- right after the so-called "reading holidays," when most students skip town, with studying the last thing on their minds.

Students have it all wrong, though, said Shirley Menaker, associate provost for academic support.

"The fall break is meant to let students catch up on reading and relax. They're not supposed to go to Timbuktu," Menaker said.

Oh well, students say.

"It's definitely meant as a break, and it's definitely not for studying," said third-year College student Elliot Savage, who has tentative plans to go to the beach and will not be including homework on the list of things he's bringing along.

Back in 1996, attitudes like Savage's made University officials change the "fall break" weekend's name to "reading days." Menaker said the University wanted to point out the real purpose of the break.

The administration proposed the days off as a way for students to relieve academic stress and catch up on reading, she said.

Erin Flynn doesn't need a name change to tell her she needs to study. The second-year College student has a midterm exam right after the break ends. But that's not going to stop Flynn, who is organizing a two-night backpacking trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, from having her fun.

"I don't get a chance to get out a lot with school and everything," Flynn said, although she does plan to return from her trip in time to do some studying.

But what about students who turn the fall break into a weeklong vacation? Administrators raise concerns over the increasing number of students who use the holidays as an excuse to miss classes.

"It's not supposed to be like a spring break," Menaker said.

She also mentioned that the University has considered combining the fall break with the Thanksgiving holidays to prevent students from skipping class.

Other schools, such as Virginia Tech, have already combined the two breaks, and students have one whole week off at the end of November. David Ford, the Vice-Provost for Student Affairs at Virginia Tech, said the longer break is convenient for students who want to travel further away. He added the weeklong break does not upset class schedules.

Some University faculty have their own ways of keeping students in class.

"I purposely schedule my exams with the idea that my students will spend their holidays writing lab reports and studying," said Elizabeth Machunis-Masuoka, a lecturer in the Biology Department.

"I don't care if students are inconvenienced because of an exam after the break," Masuoka said, adding that the University hired her to teach, which she cannot do if her students are not in class.

This does not seem to concern Professor Childress, however.

"By the time students get to this point in the semester, they should be able to take a break if they've been working all along," said Childress, who usually gives his midterms the week before the Reading Holiday.

First-year College student Zoe Chipman wasn't even sure what Fall Break was until recently.

"I didn't even know it was such a party weekend," Chipman said.

She said she learned about the holiday after hearing her roommates talk about visiting friends at other colleges and wishes she wasn't just going home.

The University routinely collects information from students about where they go during the holidays. Menaker said if too many students travel instead of staying at school, the break will be combined with the Thanksgiving holiday.

So enjoy the "Reading Holidays" while you still can -- relax on a beach one last time, take a hike through the mountains, or catch up with old friends. And if you feel like it, you might even look at a book or two.


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