Posted by the Editorial Board
We attend a young college, one that has reached an impasse in determining what kind of institution it will become. This indecision is evident in various contradictions embedded in so many pieces of campus life. One of the symptoms of these academic growing pains is the mid-semester study day, intended to correspond to a midterm schedule that, as the college calendar stands now, does not exist.
While scheduled as a "study day," the cancellation of classes on Oct. 22 provides academic relief for only a few students. Without a set week for midterms adhered to by the majority of professors, students face papers and exams set on an individual class basis, rather than an institution-wide structure. Ask three students when midterm week might be and you will receive three different answers.
This lack of structure reflects administrators' frequent discussions of education as a fluid and lifelong endeavor, with students following individual interests for passion's sake, rather than for the purposes of evaluation. But as the college's academics stand now, testing exists, and it plays a critical role in students' post-graduate success. The college's ideologies come into conflict with its pragmatic academic schedule, for a result that ends up satisfying neither goal.
Fixtures intended to support the more traditional midterm and final structures, like Friday's study day, become arbitrary, serving only those students whose academic demands happen to align accordingly. For the rest of the student body, the cancelled classes act only as a frustrating reminder of the time that could have provided a significant benefit in their completion of papers and exams.
These midterm assignments play a role comparable to those at the end of the semester, which are served by a much more structured finals week. Look around the campus in mid-December, and you will see a different Skidmore. By noon, students fill the library; parties turn low-key or nonexistent; the college tells student workers to take a few days off.
This contrasts greatly with the more unfocused atmosphere in mid-October. Burgess Café might see a few more students anxious for their morning coffee, but the campus does not see the same intense academic focus as during finals. The difference does not lie in the academic demands placed on students in these two points in the semester: it lies in how the college imposes these demands.
Soliciting professors' suggestions on how to best schedule a midterm week would allow the college to reserve study days accordingly. By strongly recommending that professors plan their syllabi with that set midterm week in mind, the college can create a study day that fulfills its titular purpose. The college should also consider which day of the week would be used most productively, as Friday is not the most conducive day for studying.
To determine what kind of institution Skidmore will become, administrators should look to the small frustrations faced by students as indicators of where they can begin to make those formative decisions. The resolution to these seemingly insignificant contradictions will play a guiding role in how the college goes forward in finding its identity in higher education.