September 20, 2013

Summer Musings: Dead air

University scheduling leaves a lot of us watching Netflix with our moms throughout September.

I’m quite content in limbo. Far more content than I should be. I should have a need for friends of one kind or another, college or high school, and for some kind of formal intellectual stimulation. I should be eager to leave this state, in both the physical and metaphysical sense. But I’m really quite content to sit here, in this time we call September, watching Netflix with my parents, playing board games with my grandma, sitting in the driveway with my dogs, hitting tennis balls with twelve-year-olds, and being an idiot with my sister.

September is the space between seasons here in Texas, and it’s the space between periods of education for UChicago students. And it’s a space that I’m perfectly content to inhabit: on the border between phases of life, between friend groups, between the existence and death of Breaking Bad, and most importantly, between decisions. The decisions of the summer—where to go, who to see, what to do—have passed. But as long as I’m here in Texas, I don’t have to confront the reality that I’m in flux between majors, that someone’s going to have to decide how to arrange my room at school. I also might have to go to class come September 30. These are things I don’t want to think about, much less do. I’d rather fascinate myself with the passing trivialities of life with my parents, sans obligations. My sister, someone who has a hard time remaining idle, asked me how long I think I could live like this, going nowhere, doing nothing. I really didn’t know how to answer. “A long time,” was all I could come up with.

But I don’t think my September feelings are common ones. Most of my fellow students are eager to go back to Hyde Park, to see their friends, to renew their educations, to re-inhabit the repository of crushed Red Bull cans and crushed-er souls (the Reg). And even though I have trouble answering my sister on the spot, I know that at some point I will grow tired of allowing my brain to atrophy, and at some point sooner my father will grow tired of finding me on the couch. I will join the masses in my desire to stop getting dumber, and I will have to go back to school. If my idleness were to run its course, this point would probably come some time mid-October. But for most students it arrives much earlier, most definitely before the last day of September.

So, why on earth has the University created this lost month? Why does our school year start a full month after pretty much everyone else’s?

The price of this dead month is obviously present at the end of our school year, when youthful souls across the country are liberated in May while we’re still taking midterms. Getting out so late makes it more difficult for UChicago students to get summer jobs, many of which have already been snapped up by students who get out of school earlier. But more than anything, for most people, hanging out with your mom after all your friends have gone back to school is not an ideal way to spend a month.

There are other options. Perhaps we could start two weeks earlier and get out two weeks earlier, giving us a longer winter break, or perhaps a Thanksgiving break of legitimate length. Dartmouth, for example, employs a calendar similar to this, incorporating one break that spans both Thanksgiving and Christmas. They then start winter quarter at the beginning of January and get out for summer break in the first week of June. Granted, this essentially only solves one half of the lost month issue, but half is better than none. Another possibility is to start fall quarter a full five weeks earlier and split winter quarter around Christmas break. Splitting a quarter around an extended break may not be an ideal situation, but it eliminates our dead month problem.

Perhaps the University has the schedule it does just because we’re, you know, different, and we like it that way. But different isn’t always better. While I personally am content watching Netflix with my mom for now, I think most people would prefer to get out of their hometowns at around the same time as their friends. And I think it’s time the University did something to get us off our couches a little earlier.

Liam Leddy is a second-year in the College. Summer Musings is a Viewpoints blog that publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays through September 27.