By Johannes Fridericus Molinarius
The year 46 B.C.E. had 445 days. Chronologers call it “the year of confusion,” but Macrobius was right. It was the year that ended confusion. Months did not align with their proper seasons. Festivals occurred at the wrong time. The gods grew angry. Julius Caesar, Rome’s chief priest, first adjusted, and then, in 45 B.C.E., repaired a broken calendar, doing the job so well that most of the world today still uses a modified form of the Julian calendar. There is a lesson here.
Our academic calendar, like its ancient Roman counterpart, cries out for reform (or at least discussion), but—the general argument runs—Union students love and cherish our unique mapping of academic time, and would bitterly resent any change. Is it the six week break in bleakest winter, home when everyone else is at school? No holidays, religious or secular? Perhaps Union students have no need of an occasional holiday for catching up or visiting family. Perhaps they never catch colds. Reading days before exams? Apparently, our students can study and complete term papers and take exams—all at the same time. Summer internships and jobs? Perhaps our students are just that good—better to let students from other schools enjoy a head start… and the internships and jobs. Study abroad? Many colleges can afford more slots. At other schools, absent students are distributed evenly across terms. At Union, most students study abroad in the fall. This creates vacancies, while, in winter and spring, a different problem can crop up—crowding and shortages. All this costs money. Why, then, not send more students abroad in winter and spring? Our fall term meshes with the fall terms of other schools and programs. But our winter and spring terms? They mesh with next to none.
Academic calendars can be changed. They can be adjusted. They can be made to work more effectively for students. Before modifying the Roman calendar, Caesar studied better examples in Egypt. We too can look at examples offered by other colleges and universities—and all we have to do is go online.