Heather Alderfer, writing from New Haven, CT, USA.
My garden is just past its first vibrant bloom. A few weeks ago, I marveled at the rhododendrons, peonies, roses, and azaleas, which on the East Coast seem to time their blossoms almost perfectly with commencement weekends. Now there is nothing blooming in the garden, and those plants which did bloom are putting their energy into regaining strength, before bursting forth with another explosion of color.
For American colleges without summer sessions, administrators are experiencing a similar seasonal lull. We’ve hounded (or are still hounding) disappearing faculty for grades before they are unreachable over the summer. We’ve reviewed hundreds of degree audits and cleared as many students as possible for graduation. We have triple checked commencement lists, often for the last time just before the commencement procession as the graduates struggle to line themselves up alphabetically (a task otherwise intelligent students often find amazingly difficult). Then for a few short weeks after the graduates and most faculty depart, inquiries from newly admitted students are only a trickle and not the deluge that will come in late July and August before classes start again.
Just as the quiet of winter allows for planning and New Year’s resolutions, this is the time of year when the academic calendar is a clean slate and new resolutions become possible. I gather the various calendars from last year, my own jotted notes about what could be done better, and attempt to draft an agenda and tasks for the upcoming year: the flurry of preparation for the start of the semester, the data cleanup once registration activity is over, building up to the frantic end of classes, exams, and grading – the work of the Registrar’s Office is, in part, planning one semester ahead of what the students are actually experiencing in the classroom. Only during the summer seasonal lull does the arc of the calendar appear consistent, streamlined, and logical.
Academic calendars are tricky things. Leap years, national holidays and oddly placed 5th weeks in a month can wreck havoc on the stability and regularity Registrars strive for. In his 1968 classic Admissions, Academic Records, and Registrar Services, C. James Quann devotes a whole chapter to planning the academic calendar, and a whole separate chapter to course meeting patterns. I am often bemused by how little has changed in my profession since the early 19th century.
Like the rhythms of the garden, sowing seeds, thinning and weeding, to blossoms and regrowth, the rhythms of the academic calendar become familiar and habitual over time. This time of year I am lucky to be one of the administrators who has the space and time to take a breath, regroup, and reflect on the cycles of the past, and anticipate the growth and beauty the upcoming year will bring.