A compromise for the Friday before spring break

A show of hands: Who's got class on Friday?

The question has obvious significance. Some number of UA students will be skipping out as early as Wednesday (if not missing the whole week altogether) to get a head start on spring break. Correspondingly, some number of professors and teaching assistants will elect to hold class as scheduled, perhaps for no more reason than, simply, ""I'm supposed to be here — why aren't they?""


Fair enough. But that won't be the end of it. Some fraction of these instructors will not only require students to attend, but also introduce some sort of bitter carrot, be it an exam, a pop quiz or the threat of grade reduction for non-compliance.

This scenario sucks. It also invokes the concept of negative externality.

In business theory, negative externalities are adverse consequences people must endure even though they didn't participate in a given transaction. Fear not, for this concept actually has real-world application.

Suppose an 18-year-old student buys alcohol at a bar in Rocky Point. The student is buying from a bartender and thus making transactions. However, these purchases increase the risk that the student, perhaps inexperienced and unknowing of his boundaries with the drink, will fight and injure someone in a drunken stupor. This risk to others is a negative externality.

When students skip class for a longer vacation, they effectively reach an agreement, thereby forming a transaction, with their instructors. According to this agreement, the students will not attend class and the instructors will administer some means of persuading them otherwise. Unfortunately, this creates negative externalities for the students who do attend. They have to shoulder some burden — even if just a surly teaching assistant — that the students who left early don't.

It bears mentioning that many students don't skip class on these days for arbitrary reasons. Airports become increasingly like stomped and smattered anthills the closer you get to the Friday before break — everyone's in a hurry to get out. Ditto for the roads, to some extent. It's clearly in students' best interest to get a jumpstart on travel so as to escape the calamity.

Some students probably exploit this thinking. They could go to class but decide instead to sleep in, and invite great numbers of their friends to do likewise. It seems to be this minority of miscreants — or the imagination thereof — that really captures the ire of instructors, encouraging them to think of unique means of punishment. And so every student in the class, even those who forwent efficient travel out of fear of retribution, becomes subject to suffering.

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution states, ""Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."" That provision has nothing to do with this discussion. But a solution is plain: Cancel classes on the Friday before break and mandate instructors to attach some sort of major due date or exam to that Thursday.

Students will get an extra day to beat traffic and professors can plan their lessons without fear of showing up to 25 students in a 200-seat auditorium. Sounds like a reasonable compromise.

It may happen that this switch changes nothing and students will be more encouraged to skip the whole week before. So be it. Perhaps then the burden will fall more squarely on those whose hands won't be raised when it counts.

— Tom Knauer is a first-year law student.

He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

Share this article