For the first time, Tufts students will have classes on Columbus Day, Oct. 12, due to the late start to the semester and student input.
While fall classes are usually not held on Columbus Day, Veterans Day or Thanksgiving, Secretary of the Faculty in the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences Jillian Dubman said that exceptions are made when Labor Day occurs as late as it did this year, on Sept. 7.
“In those years when Labor Day is late, we need to schedule classes on a day that would otherwise be a class holiday,” Dubman said.
That class holiday was Veterans Day in past years in order to maintain the long Columbus Day weekend and allow an extra day for pre-Thanksgiving break travel, according to Dubman.
However, many student and community members told the administration that they wanted to participate in ceremonies to honor loved ones or others who have served in the armed forces on Veterans Day, according to Dean of Academic Advising and Undergraduate Studies Carmen Lowe.
Dubman said that in April 2010, the Arts and Sciences and Engineering Educational Policy Committee and Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate passed a proposal that would honor student and community responses.
“[The proposal said] in those occasional years when the timing of Labor Day means we cannot accommodate the usual Columbus Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving holiday schedule, we hold classes on Columbus Day,” she said.
This would give necessary respect to veterans and to make it easier for students to attend the university-sponsored Veterans Day program, according to Dubman.
The decision was made years ago because the university’s academic calendar is set five years in advance by the Academic Calendar Committee, Lowe told the Daily in an email.
This committee contains faculty representatives from the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering (AS&E), a TCU Senate representative, the registrar and other administrators, Dubman said.
Dubman added that the committee considers input from the broader Tufts community, including from parents and students.
“AS&E faculty members officially vote on the academic calendar for several years at a time, and those calendars are posted online,” she said.
In recent years, the ethical value of celebrating Columbus Day has been challenged by many schools and workplaces that have decided to remain open on that day. Brown University has been one of the many places that has voted to eliminate the observance of Columbus Day, following student protests about the brutal treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas following Columbus’ arrival. Last year, Tufts students and faculty, including members of TCU Senate, urged the university to take similar measures. A TCU Senate resolution requesting that Tufts’ official academic calendar rename the holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day was passed on Sept. 28, 2014, and on Oct. 13, a rally was held on the lower patio of the campus center in support of the same effort. According to the resolution, Cornell University and University of California, Berkeley, as well as four states, have already re-recognized Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
According to the Tufts academic calendar, which is available online, the academic schedule has already been set through August 2019. The calendars for 2016, 2017 and 2018 show that Columbus Day, in addition to both Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, will still be a fall academic holiday in spite of the demands of the TCU Senate resolution. The calendar has not yet scheduled holidays for 2019 after August.
In designing the academic calendar, Lowe said the calendar committee is restricted by several parameters.
“The committee must designate enough weeks of instruction and days of instruction to meet federal guidelines on the semester,” she said. “So for the past few decades, Tufts’ fall semester for the AS&E always starts immediately after Labor Day and ends before Christmas Day, allowing anywhere from one to three reading days and six days for final exams.”
According to Dubman, AS&E must have 65 working days, or days when classes are scheduled, during the fall semester to meet the academic accreditation requirements. Classes do not start earlier than the day after Labor Day in order to accommodate first-year orientation programs and travel plans by students and families.
“We need to accommodate a three-day reading period before finals, and we need to make sure final exams conclude by December 22 in order to meet parent and student requests that students be able to travel home before the holiday ‘blackout’ dates are in force,” Dubman said.