The Amazing, Shrinking Academic Year

When I read this article in today’s Harvard Crimson, asking for a shorter school year, I couldn’t figure out if it was a parody. At first I laughed, but then it occurred to me that the Crimson editorialists are likely serious.

I would love to see a comparison done of the length of the academic
year for each decade starting in the 1960s and running to the present.
If memory serves, the academic year took a major reduction during the
“oil crisis” during the woeful administration of President Jimmy Carter;
the winter break was extended supposedly in order to conserve fuel
during the coldest months of the year. Then oil came back into plentiful
supply, but the school year has continued to shrink. And, of course,
the professoriate has likewise enjoyed a much shorter teaching year, as
students have come to enjoy a much shorter learning year. And we are all
familiar with how difficult it is to find an administrator on campus
the day or two before one of these incessant “breaks.”

There was a time when I thought that no one had
Massachusetts state employees beat in the number of holidays on the
calendar, especially those of the “Monday” sort. (But, of course, while
some will always have Paris, Suffolk County (MA) will always have Bunker
Hill Day and such – I can’t even remember their names.) But nothing
beats the modern college or university for the ever-shrinking
learning/teaching year and the shrinking work ethic they imply. Given
the explosion in tuition rates, one shrinks from calculating the amount
of tuition paid per teaching day!

This is pretty sad stuff, in my view – indicative of a
culture in our academic institutions that will have long-term dire
impacts in producing an educated (rather than merely a credentialed)


  • Harvey Silverglate

    Harvey Silverglate, a Boston criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer and writer, is the co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education ( He co-authored The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses.

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4 thoughts on “The Amazing, Shrinking Academic Year

  1. There is a stealth shortening of the academic year as well, where professors schedule in-class final exams on the last week of classes instead of teaching for another week and administering the exam during the official exam period.
    It is amazing to read the semester outlines given in the front matter of old (1940s-1960s) textbooks and compare them to the syllabus of equivalent classes today. The volume of material taught per course has declined sharply, in tandem with the decline in quality of teaching/ learning.

  2. I thought 18-year-olds went to college because they valued a higher education. Not just a social credential or a certificate that looks good on a resume’, leading to a rewarding career, but knowledge and understanding, the key to maturity, personal worth, and good citizenship. Harvard was supposed to be one of the best places to begin the life-long search for an educated mind, the ambition for which is a personal goal that must come from within.
    Today, Harvard undergraduates not only don’t value their opportunity. They hold their professors and their studies in contempt. Instead of thirsting for knowledge and enlightenment, trying to get the most they can out these irreplaceable four years, they want to cut it short and live a lie, pretending to qualifications they have not earned. What kind of “university” creates, or tolerates, or graduates, such worthless phonies?

  3. Nothing wrong with a Fall break, or any week-long break. The pure waste is the absence of a regular summer session. Having one could cut college time by a year.

  4. Actually given the content in what is being taught, at least in non-STEM courses, it’s quality, or more specifically lack thereof, and the seeming ideologically driven purpose of many, if not most, university level instructors, I’m not so sure shortening the school year is such a bad idea.
    Now if they could just figure a way to shorten the career lifespan of administrators to months instead of years we’d be on our way to dramatic improvements in at least the cost of the increasingly irrelevant and worthless degrees universities are granting.
    Short of peasants at the gates with torches, pitchforks, tar and feathers, I don’t see it changing much for the better.

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