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Editorial: The registrar could save reading period

Brown has canceled classes twice already this semester, first on Jan. 27 and again yesterday, Feb. 9. Provost Vicki Colvin sent a campus-wide email Sunday suggesting that faculty members avail themselves of reading period’s buffer to make up for lost class time. But the proposed rescheduling raises questions about the purpose of reading period, which is already often ignored by professors, and whether the University should change its schedule to accommodate the classes that bear the brunt of the burden.

Early disruptions in class schedules strain both students and teachers. Syllabi revisions and course juggling become an added nuisance that compromises course quality and student learning. Two missed days may not seem significant, but for some courses, particularly seminars and labs, it becomes important to look at what kind of schedule is amenable to all at Brown.

Ostensibly, reading period is for focused studying, a somewhat obligation-free reprieve before a final push by both students and faculty members. But some classes at Brown choose to ignore reading period to continue running classes, often incorporating the week into syllabi with additional material and even major assignments. But for professors who choose to provide students with days off for studying, as well as those who have lessons planned, simply pushing the schedule back a week is not convenient. Additionally, shifting the entire semester presents problems for covering material before midterms that often run up against Spring Break.

On face, Brown rarely cancels classes. In the past four years, it had closed only for Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Winter Storm Nemo in 2013, and often these scenarios can be handled on a case-by-case basis by professors. But this early in the semester, there is an opportunity to reschedule classes that both course instructors and their students have a mutual responsibility to arrange.

As the most important cancellations were those for seminars and labs — generally small groups — rescheduling is manageable. Additionally, the Office of the Registrar, with its resources in the area of room and student schedules, should be enlisted to organize makeup classes during the semester. It would be up to individual professors to contact the Registrar with a schedule of their own availability and then to schedule a makeup class and room. Many professors might choose not to make use of these extra sessions, but some might find it more convenient than cramming two seminars in one week at the end of the semester.

The utility of reading period is already severely reduced because it is not enforced. To encroach further on the week for students to process a semester of material undermines its role and should be avoided when possible. In her email, Colvin highlighted the “exceptional contributions all members of our community are making under these circumstances.” Hopefully the extensive resources and scheduling information available to the Registrar can alleviate stress for both students and faculty members and get Brown back on track.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Baxter DiFabrizio ’15. Send comments to


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