As the leaves turn shades of red, yellow and orange around Grounds and temperatures begin to cool, it’s evident that autumn is here. And while we are still sorting our candy from Trick or Treating on the Lawn, we are looking forward to returning home in a few weeks to spend time with loved ones and indulge in a home-cooked meal. However exciting this anticipation is, planning for Thanksgiving Break is a strenuous task that the University has only made worse with its lack of flexibility and accommodations for students. The University’s current schedule for the holiday leaves faculty and students at both an economic and academic disadvantage. Leadership must consider changing this schedule in future years to support the geographically diverse student body while continuing to promote academic success.
The University’s academic schedule gives faculty and students one day to get home before Thanksgiving Day — meaning classes run normally on both Monday and Tuesday. While many in-state students can hop in their cars and drive two hours to get home, out of state students are faced with a plethora of obstacles before they can reach their destinations. First and foremost, transportation is costly and options are limited when only one day has been allotted to you to get home. This raises serious equity concerns for the thousands of students traveling out of state — even weeks in advance, a plane ticket during this time period costs almost double the price it would normally be. The issue of travel costs is only exacerbated by the fact that the University leaves students with just the day before Thanksgiving to schedule their trips home. While some out of state students might be in a position to afford an inflated holiday-priced plane ticket, others must make the tradeoff of skipping classes on that Tuesday and even Monday in order to avoid the large financial burden that comes with only having one day to travel during the holidays.
Students that skip classes in order to avoid high travel costs don’t just hurt themselves, they can also impact the learning environment of the classes they choose to skip — leaving many professors between a rock and a hard place as they must decide to either try and foster meaningful engagement with half a class or canceling instruction altogether. Students should not be forced to jeopardize both their own learning opportunities and those of their peers due to their economic situations and the rigidity of the Thanksgiving Break schedule. The University is a geographically-diverse community and it should have an academic calendar that is cognizant of this reality. The failure to accommodate students’ travel needs negatively impacts the quality of education the University is able to offer.
Institutions like the College of William & Mary recognize the constraints — and costliness — of traveling back home in such a short period, and have employed accommodations like online classes to offer students more flexibility. Both the University of Virginia and William & Mary have the same Thanksgiving schedule — their break begins the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. But for William & Mary, the two days prior are remote learning days, meaning faculty and students do not have to be on campus for the entire week and can take their classes from anywhere. This decision helps to alleviate both the financial and academic burden students and professors face by giving them a more flexible travel schedule. Where students originally might have had to miss class to catch a cheaper flight or train ride, now they have the option to log into Zoom from the airport or their home. This switch to remote learning before Thanksgiving Break is just one example of the way the University could more carefully accommodate the diverse needs of its student body by incorporating already available pandemic-era infrastructure that administrators, faculty and students are familiar with.
While remote learning has the capacity to alleviate the financial burdens and academic barriers that the University’s current schedule creates, we do recognize that there are drawbacks to switching to online courses. Online courses can be significantly less effective than traditional, in-person classes, in part because they detract from a collaborative environment that fosters learning. And while online courses potentially alleviate transportation costs for some students, students are paying high tuition rates to attend the University in person — not over Zoom. All of this is a fair critique of leveraging remote learning to alleviate travel concerns, but it is worth reiterating that we would only have to allot for two days of online classes to provide students with an additional weekend to get home to family.
Moreover, online classes are not the only solution the University could implement to ensure that students and faculty have the resources they need to cultivate an effective classroom environment in the days leading up to Thanksgiving Break. The University could start classes a week earlier, and give the entire week off for Thanksgiving. It could get rid of the scattered Fall Reading Days, push back the end of the semester or even condense the Finals period.
All of these are small but impactful ways University administrators can show their commitment to our diverse learning community on Grounds. Whichever solution the University decides to adopt, it must provide clear top-down guidance to faculty on these new measures to avoid the patchwork of teacher-specific policies that fail to provide students the flexibility they deserve during Thanksgiving week.
It may seem small, but building more travel time into Thanksgiving Break is an easy way for the University to demonstrate its commitment to the success of its students. By implementing a schedule that is cognizant of financial concerns and reduces the likelihood that students have to miss class, the University can more carefully accommodate its geographically diverse student body and ensure that everyone is able to get home in time for pie.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associates and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at email@example.com.