Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from the Philippines
The academic calendar is symbolic of how an institution values time. It pegs the community to set dates like enrollment and graduations; exam periods and study periods; and holidays and vacations. In my university’s case, what is not contained in the calendar is more instructive than what it actually says. Like many non-modern societies, we take a more malleable approach to time and along with it, a less strict teaching regimen.
My University’s academic calendar is a historical artifact from a former agrarian society that was dependent upon the young’s labor for planting and harvesting. It begins in June and ends in March. Book-ending the semesters are Christian holidays (All Saints/Souls Day in November 1; and Lent in late March/early April). Apart from the requisite two-week holiday for Christmas and New Year (December), we also give way to numerous “public” holidays celebrating heroes and heroic events (about 7 national and 3 local), which under former President Arroyo’s holiday economics scheme invariably were moved to Mondays (and inconveniently announced the week before the holiday!).
For a university with fixed class schedules on Mondays/Thursdays and Tuesdays/Fridays, the said holiday economics scheme is a killer on academic rhythm. It meant Monday/Thursday classes automatically lose anywhere from 4-5 sessions per semester. Moving class schedules to avoid Monday proved to be a disastrous experiment in my university, with students lamenting their midweek (Wednesday) respite. Unresolved, this serious problem drove some faculty members to shorten their syllabus topics or else wave their fists in frustration to a government more intent on building quasi-nationalism through these public holidays than inculcating knowledge to the young.
That our academic calendar falls within the typhoon/monsoon season also means several cancellations on account of flooding and other natural disasters. Surely nobody in his/her right mind would brave flying GI sheets and falling tree branches in a typhoon category 3. The same applies to those like myself who are too worried about getting leptospirosis from wading in flood waters. And so, while my professors in Boston would typically make allowance for one “snow day,” in the Philippines, 3 or 4 weather-related class cancellations are standard.
And then there are the numerous class suspensions from the democratic urges to “consult” by university officials– from visiting student/faculty dignitaries from Manila, University President candidates, pension fund administrators, student council members, etc. Memorandums are usually issued to this effect, and of course fashionably close to the actual date to make life extra miserable for teachers. These “consultation” events are so numerous (and NOT scheduled outside of class hours) that I have come to believe teaching is secondary only to accommodating bureaucratic niceties in my university. That very few eventually turn out in these consultations despite the class suspension should have cued administrators’ long ago of this folly. Worse are committee meetings for which faculty members are EXPECTED not to hold classes (or to make alternative arrangements) so that they otherwise spend half a day discussing matters better done on-line in less time.
My university also calendars various activities celebrating institutional milestones from foundation day, sports festivals, alumni homecoming to Christmas lantern parades. Typically lasting 2-3 days, they have become associated with “tradition” as well as an informal teaching holiday (I usually spend this week-long respite doing field work or attending conferences abroad). In fact, although NOT stated in the academic calendar, it has become general practice to not hold classes on these dates. Claims of “alternative” class activities etc. are touted to cover for these gaps, but everyone knows it’s just an excuse to party.
If you are keeping tabs, the non-teaching days sum up to a whopping 3 weeks every year where I am. To someone like myself who takes learning and face-to-face engagements with students as serious endeavors, it is a most unhappy situation. Am I too infected by Western academic standards where classes are sacrosanct to the university’s mission? Should my University be faulted for bringing up community and national values at par with knowledge building and sharing? Why bother with an academic calendar when red letter days are rendered invisible or hidden?
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.