ANNAPOLIS-To working stiffs across America, the long Thanksgiving weekend is a welcome break from the daily grind. But for some Maryland students, four days is just not enough to get home, eat turkey and get back to the books.
So a movement has begun to get the whole week off.
“Most students would like to not travel home Wednesday when the majority of America is trying to get to where they’re going for the holiday,” said Brian Bailey, junior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and vice chairman of the university system Student Council.
Although institutions in the University System of Maryland have the option of taking Wednesday through Friday for Thanksgiving, the College Park, Baltimore County and Baltimore campuses take off only Thursday and Friday.
The system Student Council wants to extend the break to an entire week on all 13 system campuses. Chairman Nicolas Aragon said the student council hopes to present its proposal to the system Board of Regents in February.
The problem is that state law requires universities to squeeze in 2,250 minutes of instruction time – which translates to about 15 weeks of classes – between Labor Day and the Christmas holiday for each three credit course.
Teri Hollander, system associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said taking off a week for Thanksgiving just won’t work with these calendar restraints.
“Unless (the students) want to go and lobby the state to change the requirements for the instructional time required,” including another week break is impossible, she said.
“We’ve looked at it and looked at it and tried our best,” Hollander said. “We just haven’t been able to do it.”
What is impossible for the University System of Maryland is reality for the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and West Virginia University. These and many other universities give their students a week off for the November holiday.
While some Maryland students may opt to not go home because the break is short, for many the answer to the time crunch is simply to skip class.
“I think most students do not go to class on (Thanksgiving) Wednesdays at all,” Bailey said.
Ian Craig, a recent UMBC graduate, said students there are generally focused on their studies but on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving “classes and minds were both vacant, and often teachers would unofficially cancel classes.”
Students “know the teachers don’t require as much of them on that Wednesday,” he said.
Aragon, a senior at College Park, said, “What it really comes down to is you can’t expect students from out of state to leave Wednesday and come back Sunday.”
Maryland universities not in the university system typically have three-day breaks, but none offer a week for Thanksgiving.
Of the public institutions not part of the university system, Morgan State University has a two-day holiday, and St. Mary’s College students have a three-day break.
Bailey said the system Student Council decided to push for the break’s extension to a week rather than a uniform three days because “right after you come back from Thanksgiving you have final exams within a week.”
Officials said a proposal for a uniform three-day break would be more likely to pass.
Such a proposal “would be greeted with more enthusiasm, because then most classes would at least meet once” that week, said Martha Siegel, system faculty council chairwoman and math professor at Towson University.
Maryland independent and private universities’ Thanksgiving schedules vary.
The Johns Hopkins University schools’ and colleges’ breaks range from two to three days. Students at St. John’s College don’t go to class Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, and the same is true for students at McDaniel, Goucher and Hood colleges.
Universities with breaks comparable to what the Student Council is proposing can be found just beyond the state’s borders and across the country. In addition to the nearby schools, at least two universities outside the mid-Atlantic region have recently extended their Thanksgiving breaks to one week.
Stanford University’s Faculty Senate made the decision to extend Thanksgiving to a week break on a trial basis because it allowed the fall quarter to start on a Monday instead of a Wednesday, Registrar Roger Printup said.
“We wouldn’t mess with our academic calendar if there weren’t good academic reasons to do it,” Printup said. But “one of the nice side effects of all of this is the week off at Thanksgiving.”
In Maryland, most students who live in dorms leave during the break even if it is short, said Jan Davidson, associate director of the Department of Resident Life at College Park.
“The number who do stay is in the low hundreds. It’s a coming-and-going figure,” Davidson said. More than 10,000 students live on campus at College Park in 34 dorms and three apartment complexes, he said.
Davidson said the largest dorms are closed by 10 p.m. Wednesday before the holiday, and students can’t get back in until Sunday morning. A few smaller dorms stay open to accommodate students who need to stay. He said extending the break would create an “enormous hornet’s nest of issues that on their face might appear to be in students’ best interest, but on the whole I’m not sure that would be the case.”