Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Every year, there is a regular ritual at universities across the nation in the spring term. The proverbial “Spring Break” has become a thing of legend. Students from across the country largely traveling to warm locations for a week of debauchery and freedom.
Spring break is important. In administration, it’s referred to “sharpening the saw”. We, you and I, as human beings need to take breaks, and if you’re not a human, please let me know because if you’re not human but can still read this, we, you and I, have a lot of money in our future.
Most of us work about one. third of the day. This leaves a third for sleep as our human (see, now I’m wondering) bodies require, and a third for ourselves. In addition, most of us take two of seven days off (a little less than a third). Add to this holidays and vacations which are significantly less than a third of the year but play a critical role in our psyche.
Industrial America (and academic) has a goal of working people to the bone. The philosophy is money centric rather than people. There is more worry from administrators to get their money’s worth, rather than protecting their people. It’s just who we are as a society, and why we will have such a difficult time breaking out of the forty-hour work week (unless it’s to have us work more). There are many studies that suggest that shorter work weeks may be more effective as it tends to increase efficiency and productivity, although the means of how this model might look varies from one study to the other. This is, unfortunately, why it falls on the employees to look out for themselves and take the time afforded to them. I myself am something of an anomaly. I am an extreme workaholic, working typically sixty to eighty hours a week (when I have a job), but as supervisor, I’m also the kind of leader that watches out for my people and will talk with employees who abuse themselves the same way that I will do.
Students are no different. Their class schedule may seem quite scant, but when you add homework and their classes quickly add up to a full-time equivalent job or more. Add to that extra-curricular activities such as sports, clubs and student administration, plus the fact that so many students have to work to try to pay for college (recent statistics show that forty percent of students work thirty hours or more at an outside job) and the stress on the student psyche is far greater than many understand. Breaks matter.
Personally, I’ve always found the first half of spring semester particularly brutal. After so many holidays in a row from November through January, once the spring semester begins there are precious few days off. Some institutions give President’s Day off, but mine doesn’t. Were it not for the snow day, we would have gone about seven weeks, nearly two months, without even a day of vacation. Spring break is the halfway point of the spring semester, and by the time it rolls around everybody is dragging. I will never begrudge students a fun filled spring break. The second half of the semester isn’t so bad, especially with Easter break in there, but the first half is just brutal.
This spring break will be, oh, let’s say interesting. The Coronavirus (as of the writing of this piece) is just starting to take hold. It is a nasty little virus; early indications are that it has a mortality rate around 1%. This is hardly a reliable number, and probably inflated in anticipation of the worst. In the US, there are not many cases as compared with other regions (especially in the Asian continent), so we don’t have a lot of data on mortality in the US with our health system. None the less, I think we’re about to see a sudden jump of cases in the center of the country.
What spring break effectively does is bring students from across the nation to a select few popular locations all at the same time, such as Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. This is a prime situation where students that are potentially infected will most likely interact with those who are not, and the newly infected students will return the virus to their home campus. A similar thing happens over summer break. Invariably, I never would get ill during the regular school season, but the first week back (actually, faculty pre-session week) when people bring the viruses and bacteria from across the country to which my body is not accustomed and I get sick. Fortunately, it normally only lasted a few days and I was fine, most of the time, for classes.
This isn’t meant to frighten anybody. As I said, spring break is so important for the mental well-being of students. So, my personal wish is that they all have a happy, fun, exciting break and all return to us healthy, refreshed and ready to round out the year.