On Friday, Feb. 13, students enjoyed a day off classes to partake in the College’s 92nd annual Winter Carnival. Home to the oldest student-run carnival in the nation, the College hosts a variety of activities over the three-day weekend. Some professors, however, have begun to question the benefit of canceling Friday classes.
Even though these Friday classes are made up at the end of the semester, with an additional Monday of Friday schedule classes before finals begin, some professors wonder if it is really worth the inconvenience.
Students have traditionally been given Friday off so that they can cheer on fellow classmates competing in the Alpine and Nordic skiing competitions at the Snow Bowl and Rikert. Despite the intention of the free morning, there is some doubt as to whether students are using this time to attend the ski races.
Professor of Economics and Faculty Director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship Jon Isham said, “We cancel classes because of long-standing traditions and I wonder if those traditions are still vibrant. We are canceling one morning’s worth of classes for Winter Carnival activities and I wonder how many students are actually doing those activities at that time. Are students really out there on the slopes? And even if they are, is this a good trade-off for our academic community?”
Olivia Allen ’15 has observed such a lack of student involvement in Friday’s activities.
“I love school free Fridays as much as the next person, but I think the activities provided on Fridays could benefit a wider range of people,” said Allen. “A lot of students end up working with professors or in the library even though they don’t have school.”
Isham along with Professor John Emerson, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Mathematics, expressed a dislike for the Monday of classes added at the end of term. Both would prefer to keep classes on the Friday of Winter Carnival in exchange for getting rid of classes on that Monday before finals.
On the effect of cancelled classes on his syllabus and course schedule, Emerson said, “In mathematics courses, it creates some problems. We have two Fridays with classes cancelled and we replace it with a lame duck Monday. It makes a difference in math because there is a body of material that is assumed to be covered. Losing a day or two days to the schedule just makes things more compressed and makes it a little bit more difficult for students.”
Both Isham and Emerson, however, also mentioned that not having classes isn’t a major deal to them as they simply delay content and make adjustments. Their real question is whether it’s really worth it.
Sayre Weir ’15 believes that there is value to canceling classes for Winter Carnival.
“The races are a fun atmosphere and it’s cool to see the campus really come together. Thursday night is the kickoff so having Friday morning classes would disrupt the flow of the Carnival,” Weir said.
She continued, “I think that having classes off on Friday encourages students to get involved and go up to the mountain because they have some extra time. It’s nice to have an extra day to recharge, especially since the first week is so chaotic.”
While Middlebury has kept many traditions alive, canceling Friday classes being just one of them, there are also many aspects surrounding this event that have changed over the years.
For example, the first Winter Carnivals were held on Chipman Hill and there were snowshoe and obstacle races held on Storrs Avenue. Footage from the 1940s shows “aero-skijoring” on Lake Champlain. Students would attach a rope to a small plane and pull a skier along behind at high speed, whipping across the lake.
Emerson remembers when ski jumping used to be held right outside the back windows of the Snow Bowl lodge.
“The University of Vermont always won the ski jump because they imported Norwegian skiers,” Emerson said. “A UVM skier set the all time ski jump record when he over jumped the hill. He stayed under control and stopped in time, but that was the last year that they had ski jumping.”
Emerson also pointed out that as technology has advanced, students have had less of a role to play in running winter carnival.
“Historically, the reason that we didn’t have classes on Friday was that every Friday morning students went up and packed the snow, helped run events; things are different now with electronics,” Emerson said.
Currently, no steps have been taken toward reinstating Friday classes. However, we may see changes to the Winter Carnival schedule in the future if professor opinion continues to grow in favor of holding classes.