Students need a break

Students+need+a+break

Megan Tran

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a break is “a time away from work or your regular activity.” For some students, however, breaks can be redefined as “a time without lectures but not without homework, depending on the whims of professors.”

Students often rely on longer breaks, such as Thanksgiving and spring break, to recuperate from academic stressors and prepare for the end of the semester. When professors assign work even when classes are not being held, students may feel increased stress from the loss of their personal time. 

As such, I urge UT to establish a policy that prevents professors from setting assignment deadlines during spring break.

Kathleen Harrison, communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, outlined the University’s current stance regarding spring break due dates.

“While there is no rule in place that would make a policy impossible, allowing faculty the discretion to use their best judgement and consider accommodations based on circumstances … ensures that there is flexibility for both students and faculty,” Harrison said in an email.

Dennis Mishler, an assistant professor of practice in the College of Natural Sciences, shared the sentiments expressed in Harrison’s email and advocated for allowing professors to choose whether to assign work over spring break.

“Best practices are to avoid (assigning work due during spring break) as much as possible, but you have to use judgment based upon what you and your students decide,” Mishler said.

Certainly, Mishler and other like-minded professors were willing to listen to the concerns of students, but many remained steadfast in their assignment deadlines. This inflexibility, unfortunately, can place undue stress upon struggling students who are looking forward to time away from the strain of academic expectations.  

A student, who wishes to remain anonymous out of concern that their standing in the class may be affected, expressed frustration when their plan to spend time with family was derailed by their professor’s decision to make a project due in the middle of spring break.  

“I’ve had an extremely stressful spring semester thus far, so worrying about this assignment for the majority of my break was so frustrating,” they said. “I had to leave my family and what I was doing to go and deal with this assignment.”

Without rushing to finish their assignment, there was no feasible way for the student to be done before visiting their family, as it was assigned the Friday before spring break started. Additionally, their professor would not explain why he chose to assign work over the break, as opposed to during the school year.

The lack of communication from their professor was understandably upsetting, as the student felt obligated to sacrifice their time with family to complete the professor’s assignment. The personal sacrifices that are often required when working on assignments during breaks can be detrimental to students’ mental health. 

In light of the increased difficulty of online learning and only weeks after Winter Storm Uri wreaked havoc on the lives of students and faculty, we would hope professors would be willing to empathize with students and allow them the time during spring break to relax and step back from academic obligations.

In the event that professors aren’t, however, a University rule needs to be in place. If professors  are refusing to grant students a break during such a catastrophic semester, it’s unlikely they will be willing to grant students a break in normal years. 

As such, the University needs to protect the well-being of its students and institute a policy that prevents assignments from being due over spring break. 

Tran is a Plan II and English freshman from Houston, Texas.