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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Should the School Day Begin Later? Delayed Starts, Morning Athletic Practices Under Consideration

Author: President John McCardell, Jr.

I have just returned from the annual convention of the NCAA, where I have begun a term as vice chair of the Division III President's Council. While there, I attended a session at which James Shulman, co-author of "The Game of Life," fielded questions from presidents and athletics directors about the implications of his study.

It is truly remarkable that, more than a year after the book's publication, its analysis of how athletics has come to play an increasingly prominent (some would say disproportionate) role on college campuses continues to inspire debate. As I listened to the spirited exchanges, all of which, at the core, had to do with the proper balance between the two words that constitute the term "student-athlete," I recalled a similar discussion that took place at our Bread Loaf faculty meeting last fall. In several of the break-out groups devoted to a discussion of "The Game of Life," a potentially significant proposal surfaced. The proposal survives only in the memories of the meeting participants, including some coaches, and in the records of the several sessions, long since filed away.

I believe it is time to resurrect the proposal and place it before the community for discussion and debate. The proposal is this: recast the College's daily schedule by placing athletic team practices at the beginning of the day, in the early morning, by scheduling classes from mid-morning through mid-afternoon and then again some evenings, and by opening up the late-afternoon/dinner period so that all members of our community have equal access to the activities that take place, or might now take place, during those hours.

Here is an example of how it might work. Practices would take place on Monday through Friday from, say, 7 to 9 a.m. or 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. The academic day would begin at 9:30 or 10 a.m. An hour for lunch would be kept open; no classes would be scheduled. Classes would run until, say, 4:30p.m. Evening classes would be held on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays between the hours of 7:30 and 10:30. One mid-day hour would be set apart each week for a College Convocation or for groups of, say, commons-based academic events. One afternoon per week, perhaps Wednesdays, would also be unscheduled after a certain point, perhaps 2 or 3 p.m., for mid-week athletic contests, all of which would take place at that time.

I do not know, as a practical matter, whether this proposal supplies a sufficient number of hours to schedule classes within the patterns of our curriculum or the availability of teaching spaces, but I believe it could, and in any case, if the principle is solid, the details can be made to work. Nor do I know how desirable the prospect of evening classes might be, though I have taught an evening class myself for many years and always to a full enrollment. I do know that, for whatever reasons, early morning and Friday classes are ever less frequently offered and that this proposal at least offers the possibility of a more efficient use of scheduled classroom hours and spaces. I also suspect that there might well be salutary effects in the student behavioral realm.

Finally, it is indisputable that such a schedule offers far better preparation for the lives students will lead in the "real world" after Middlebury and thus effectively addresses those critics of higher education who still contend that by our policies and by the behavioral patterns those policies encourage, our students are less ready than they might be for those "real world realities."

Now come the critics. I welcome constructive criticism, whether in support or opposition. I will, however, dismiss out of hand (and urge others to do so as well) any individual or group claiming to "represent" students, faculty or staff opinion. I do not believe ours is a place where all students, faculty or staff think alike. And there will be ample time to consult with the duly elected representatives of each body. I will be equally impatient with defenders of "the way we've always done it" and critics of "the administration trying to run our lives." These are slogans, not arguments. Let us have an intelligent, informed, substantive debate.

And let it begin now.


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