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Univ. should reform system to help balancing act

By Jacob Edelman

Section: Opinions

January 22, 2016

“Success in this 4 credit hour course is based on the expectation that students will spend a minimum of 9 hours of study time per week in preparation for class.”

That phrase can be found in almost any course syllabus at Brandeis, and for good reason. Like other universities, Brandeis needs to be officially accredited, and it is by the above-listed standards that Brandeis can fulfill some of the teaching obligations required to give its students a sound education. That sort of phrase needs to be in the syllabus.

However, the fact of the matter is that the way a professor designs their syllabus and the way the course actually runs can be quite different, and students can wind up taking a very different course from the one they thought they’d signed up for to begin with. This is a dilemma that should be thought about and dealt with in teaching syllabuses and curricula for the benefit of all students.

Most Brandeis students take four courses, but some students choose to take five or even six. That means that between 36 and 54 hours outside of class should be given to studying for the the classes we’re taking. Added to the 16 to 24 hours per week students spend in class already, that’s the equivalent of working a full-time job and a half. I wonder, for how many students do these hourly targets hold true?

This semester, when it came time to get books for my classes, I had to get 19. That’s right, 19 books. Book for classes are expensive, even more so from the bookstore. A number of these books are going to go largely unread, save a chapter or two specifically requested for a close reading by the professor. It is certainly true that reading these books in their totality would no doubt aid in overall course comprehension, but that is another huge investment of time.

There is more to a university education than hours spent in the classroom with the professor and outside the classroom hitting the books. Both are incredibly important to practical learning; however, classes alone are not why most students attend university. It is for the grand experience. Brandeis has more than 200 clubs available for participation on campus, a manifold of opportunities for off-campus activities and thousands of people to connect with on an intellectual, professional and personal level. In order to participate in a club or to volunteer with the Waltham Group or have a midnight conversation about any random academic topic, a student needs time. Where does this time come from? More often than not, it comes straight out of the 36 to 54 hours of out-of-class studying and out of healthy sleep schedules.

So that leads to the question: where should the time balance be struck? Out of 168 hours per week, a minimum of 49 hours (seven per day) should be spent asleep, leaving only 119 hours to eat, study, walk between buildings, attend class, write essays, go to clubs, clean, do laundry, practice self-care and talk to others—all without falling victim to work-induced stress. Balance can be a difficult virtue to achieve.

This time-balancing act is often unstable, and all contributors to the various activities which students take part in need to be constantly evaluating which tasks are necessary to give out, and which are not. Is a book not realistically going to be read? Don’t ask a student to purchase it. Is a voluntary activity too strict in its requirements to allow students to take a guilt-free break? Lighten up. Are students generally not getting enough sleep? Consider reforming the schedule to make fewer of the harsh 8 a.m. classes.

College isn’t supposed to be a country club in which students live a life with minimal work; we are here to be tested and pushed to our limits for the sake of growth. But in a student’s 24-hour world, I’d suggest that everyone, students and faculty alike, needs to simply remember to be mindful of the struggle between time and commitments.

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