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University extends holiday

Kaitlynn Riely | Friday, August 29, 2008

Talk of turkeys is still far off in the distance, but at Notre Dame, Thanksgiving will come early this year.

The University’s Academic Council, which consists of many University officials, including University president Fr. John Jenkins, voted to add the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to the Thanksgiving recess, extending Notre Dame’s typical Thanksgiving holiday by one day.

“One of the driving factors is that we are a national University, and you would expect that students would want to be with family at the Thanksgiving holidays … and we were going all the way through Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so it’s hard to get out of South Bend,” University Registrar Harold Pace said.

During Freshman Orientation Weekend, Anthony Travel, the travel company with an office located in the basement of LaFortune, promoted its services while informing parents of incoming students about the new recess days, said Mary Kowalski, the vice president of travel services at Anthony Travel.

The Thanksgiving weekend is typically the busiest travel weekend of the year, Kowalski said, but giving students the option to leave Tuesday or Wednesday morning could make traveling easier for many students.

To reach family for Thanksgiving, the general population usually travels late on Wednesday, due to work, Kowalski said, and in the past, Notre Dame students had to join the masses. Providing Wednesday morning and Tuesday evening as an extra day to travel could make it easier for students to find flights, she said.

People tend to fly, rather than drive, home for Thanksgiving, said Kayleen Carr, leisure manager for Anthony Travel, since the break is only a few days long.

The Thanksgiving recess has been changed four times in Notre Dame’s history, Pace said. From 1898 through to the 1950s, classes were only cancelled on Thanksgiving Day itself. It is unclear from past academic calendars whether classes were dismissed for Thanksgiving prior to 1898, he said.

The calendar was changed in 1959, with classes dismissed at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, to resume the following Monday. In 1987, the holiday was declared to run from Wednesday through Sunday, but in 1990, the recess was again changed to reduce the break to Thursday through Sunday. This recess schedule remained in place up through the fall of 2007.

Starting this fall, classes will only be held Monday and Tuesday during the Thanksgiving week. This year, Thanksgiving break starts Wednesday, Nov. 26 and lasts until Sunday, Nov. 30.

Every year, Pace said, he and others at the University would hear complaints from students and faculty about the short Thanksgiving break. Research showed that students were leaving Wednesday or earlier, even though the official start of the holiday recess was Thursday.

In an August 2007 letter to Burish, Pace cited research conducted by David Prentkowski, the director of Notre Dame Food Services, that showed approximately 11,400 dining hall meals are served on a regular Wednesday, compared with 4,700 meals on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving. Prentkowski’s research showed the data was consistent over the previous three years.

Students weren’t just skipping classes, Pace said, but professors were also cancelling them the Wednesday before Thanksgiving so students could get home.

“We could walk through DeBartolo Hall and see very few classes,” he said. “We had some evidence that classes were not meeting very regularly [that day].”

The student body was notified last semester of the Thanksgiving schedule change, and reminded again in an e-mail this week from Pace. Since the Perpetual Academic Calendar Rules of the University stipulate that each semester should include at least 70 class days, the Academic Council also decided to eliminate one reading, or study, day in December in order to meet the 70-day minimum rule.

The spring semester will include the standard four reading days, Pace said, with classes ending on a Wednesday and exams starting the following Monday.

In the course of its deliberations, Pace said, the Academic Council was worried that students might take the entire Thanksgiving week off now that classes are only scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

The University consulted with Saint Mary’s, which provides Wednesday as part of the Thanksgiving holiday, and asked the registrar to survey faculty about whether their classes had full attendance on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The majority of the responses reported no attendance problems on these two days.

Last January, Burish sent a letter to the faculty clarifying the University’s absentee policy.

“Contrary to common student lore, there is no University policy permitting students ‘three free cuts, i.e. three unexcused absences from class without consequences,” the letter said. “Deans, department chairs and directors should take the necessary steps to ensure the enforcement of University policies and procedures.”

Pace said he hoped the clarification of this rule would ensure that students did not skip class on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving.