Professors teach to empty seats Dec. 21

As Mercyhurst College’s students and faculty prepare for the holiday season, one date seems to have surpassed Christmas as the hot topic of conversation: Monday, Dec. 21.

Despite the difficulties imposed on the college community, the college scheduled class four days before Christmas in order to get the required number of class hours.

Only 25 percent of students who responded to an online survey plan to be in class on Monday.

Senior Ray Horton said, “It doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m an RA in Warde and I have maybe three residents in my wing staying until Monday. Professors will be teaching to an empty room.”

Many professors made attendance optional, cancelled class altogether or found alternative ways of holding class. Sophomore Tyler Stauffer’s art education class will be held via Skype and live blogging.

“Having class online is a good alternative to actually going to class. You can go home but still attend class,” Stauffer said.

Vice President of Academic Affairs Phillip Belfiore encourages faculty and students to talk to each other about issues concerning Christmas break. “Faculty are generally good and compassionate people and will work with students.”

However, 12 percent of students who responded to The Merciad’s poll said their professors made attendance mandatory.

“My one teacher is making it double attendance points but all my other classes are cancelled. It’s pointless,” senior Lacey Neugebauer said.

Several professors made off-record comments stating the situation is unfair to teachers without tenure, as these professors are more afraid of receiving repercussions from canceling class than professors with tenure.

This may be the reason senior international student Michelle Simpson’s professor refused to reschedule her quiz. Simpson said her plane ticket to Jamaica would be $400 less expensive if she could leave on Dec. 19.

The extra day of classes puts a large burden on students who live far away from campus. “International students are a big part of the campus population. They should have taken us into account when they made the schedule,” Simpson said.

Assistant Vice President for Academic Services Michelle Wheaton is responsible for creating a tentative academic schedule for final approval by the college council.

Wheaton said this year was a challenge because of the way the holiday fell. “I apologize for the way the calendar worked out this year… Truly, we understand the challenges students are faced with, but we have to at least have it on the books that way.”

Originally, the schedule included class on Dec. 22, but at the urging of Mercyhurst Student Government President Dinorah Sanchez and others, the college removed that day from the schedule.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Education requires we hold 40 contact hours per term for semester credit. We have to look at the calendar and make sure we meet the requirements,” Wheaton said.

Another concern among students is the lack of a reading day or a weekend between the end of the term and finals. As the schedule stands, classes will end on Tuesday, Feb. 16, with finals beginning the next day.

While senior Adam Olszewski said, “I don’t have enough time to drink before finals,” freshman Tori Spada is concerned she won’t have enough time to study. “I’m a little overwhelmed. A lot of freshmen took a heavy course load this term, including me, and I think it’ll affect our finals,” Spada said.

English professor Heidi Hosey said, “I think it’s more pressure for the faculty to grade finals… Grades tend to be due fairly quickly, often as early as Monday.”

Wheaton said the alternative to the current schedule was to hold classes on Martin Luther King Day, but the administration was reluctant to cancel the celebrations planned for the holiday.

Senior Sherette Almandez participated in Martin Luther King Day events last year. “I guess in that respect I could understand, but maybe they could have taken a couple of days off Thanksgiving break,” she said.

By shortening the time between terms, however, Wheaton worried students would not have enough time to recuperate before starting a new term. “There is not much wiggle room when you’re working with a trimester,” she said.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel: Next year students will have all of Christmas week off, according to Wheaton.