Shortly after joining ACTA in the summer of 2017, I edited a blog about the University of Akron (UA) that left me feeling positively hopeful about that public research university. Having just moved to Washington, DC after working at a major Midwest public research university, I was one happy editor to take on a piece praising university research programs. Authored by one of our student interns, who was a student at UA, the blog argued that “safe spaces” were more likely to squash free discourse than to allow it to flourish. Our intern wrote to praise a program called Cube, student-led and student-designed, that brought together all the diverse, and often discordant, voices of students before the highly contentious 2016 presidential election. Whether a student was for the Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian candidate, University of Akron students had created a way to stimulate conversation where cool reason prevailed.
January of 2018 ushered in another chance to look at the University of Akron, when Inside Higher Ed published the news that starting in fall of 2018, UA would discontinue Friday classes and offer instead what it calls “Five Star Fridays”. These special Fridays would be reserved for meetings, internships, research, career fairs, and other co-curricular activities. Life imitates art, as the saying goes, and unfortunately, in higher education, the art it often imitates is The Onion. I expected to see an Onion-esque headline, such as “University of Akron Merges with TGIF Restaurant Chain and Reserves Fridays for Fun Days”, or to see that the new anthem for UA, originally founded in 1870, was going to be a remix of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” for Friday’s, and would be sung at all commencements from 2019 onward.
Does removing Friday from academic rotation signal mission creep in university life?
There may be prudent reasons for such a decision, of course. “If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark anymore, nobody’s going to stop them,” said Yogi Berra. Maybe Fridays for the tens of thousands of students at Akron were not popular days for in-class learning and the demands of working left a need to open up a full day for alternate non-academic activities. Maybe it is just prudent business-sense to use the classrooms and labs for career-oriented options. And to be fair, Akron’s President Wilson stated that there will be no reduction in class time, with 50-minute sessions on other days of the week being extended to 75-minute sessions.
But the move raises questions—some of them already noted in the news reports. Were faculty adequately consulted about this decision that goes to the heart of education and instruction? Is removing Friday from the academic rotation a signal that the enlightenment of academic life sets with the sun on Thursday, and real-world concerns dawn brightly on “Five Star Friday”? Do the lessons of other research university systems, noted in ACTA’s reporting on Florida, have value in scrutinizing the economics of classroom utilization rates by weekday and by hours? Is this move signaling a kind of mission creep in university life, where co-curricular activities and career services are sufficiently important to take starring roles on a Friday?
We at ACTA will stay tuned, hopeful that the five-star hopes for this day bear fruit, and that The Onion is not the new Chronicle of Higher Education.
Karen Hyman is ACTA’s Senior Vice-President of Academic Affairs.