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April 3, 2014



Let’s “de-stress” Pitt’s calendar

To the editor:

As we move into the final weeks of the spring term, asking students “How are you?” typically brings some version of the response “highly stressed.”

We read much about the deadly effects of student stress not long ago with the news of student suicide at CMU. Some attributed this phenomenon to the challenges of academic competition with highly motivated and academically talented classmates.

But stress can come to students from many directions. Certainly many of our students are working 20, 30 and even more hours per week while maintaining a full academic load. This is certainly much more the norm than it was in previous years. Students work more than they should in hopes that they can graduate with less debt. Needless to say, this increases the stress imposed by their course loads.

Adding to the pressure of their studies are the financial worries imposed by student debt and the uncertainty of job prospects after graduation.

Stress can manifest in many problems, not just suicide. It provides a fertile field for many chronic illnesses, both physical and psychological.

One way that we might help our students to cope with stress is to reconsider the academic calendar.

Pitt has long been known for its “pedal to the metal” academic schedule. We are done with graduation typically in the month of April while other colleges are still in session.

In the past, whether it was an intended result or not, this presumably gave our students the opportunity to secure summer jobs before students from other schools could compete for those jobs. However, the job landscape has changed. The days when students could move seamlessly from the classroom to jobs in the mills and related workplaces are gone. Being available for work in late April no longer brings with it the same likelihood of finding summer employment.

Perhaps the intent of finishing the spring term in April was to provide students a long third trimester, the summer term. However, as a past graduate student at Pitt, I know that there are relatively few course offerings in summer term, certainly as compared to fall and spring terms. Moreover, as a teaching assistant, it was disappointing to me that my assistantship did not provide any tuition relief for courses taken during summer term. Likewise, I think most of our students, undergraduates and graduate students alike, find it impractical to take courses during summer term for financial and other reasons.

I propose therefore that we consider a modest lengthening of the fall and spring terms.  Might we consider adding a long weekend (Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday) to the fall term, perhaps in mid or late October, and (especially) to the spring term, perhaps at the end of March? It wouldn’t push back the date for the close of spring term and graduation very far, but could provide a much needed oasis for students to catch their breath and catch up on their school work when it would be very much appreciated.

Walter Orange

Assistant Professor

Mathematics and Statistics



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