A not-so-dead week after all

Reading, Review and Recitation Week — better known among students as “dead week” — enforces the university’s policy of introducing no new material during the last week of instruction.

Dead week has been UC Berkeley policy since 1954 for instructors not to present any new material during the last week of the semester and is meant to give students time to prepare for final exams and complete any projects, according to the Office of the Registrar’s website.

However, the campus didn’t always give students a week off to study. In 1983, due to student dissatisfaction with the quarter system, Berkeley switched to a semester system and reduced the week to only a couple of days.

“When Berkeley went back to the semester system, the tradition of a dead week got reduced to a few ‘dead days,’” said chair of the Academic Senate Christina Maslach. “The students wanted a return to the longer week.”

This call resulted in a Joint Task Force on Exams where the Academic Senate and various student groups were consulted in spring 2009 to reinstitute a full week off from instruction. This resulted in the current version of RRR Week as well as reduced the exam period to just one week.

Maslach said that many institutions, such as Harvard and Princeton, have a similar “Reading Week”  to give students free time to finish their work and suspects that it is more common at schools on the semester system as opposed to a quarter those on quarters.

This supposedly restful time for students can mean holing oneself up in Moffitt Library to work on a final assignment until the very hour it is due or to spend the week partying with friends.
However, for instructors, this week shapes up a bit differently, as many aren’t given the opportunity to take a break.

Some instructors on campus have mixed feelings about being able to teach no new material during dead week. South and Southeast Asian studies professor Munis Faruqui would actually like to have extra class sessions during the week but is prevented by campus policy from doing so.

However, Bruce G. Baldwin, a professor of integrative biology, said having dead week was very useful when he was a UC Santa Barbara student.

“I am very much in favor of RRR Week, which I do understand is not provided at some other universities,” Baldwin said. “(It) allows for students to study for finals and prepare papers and other assignments without the hectic schedule they experience during classes.”

Since his  courses include a third midterm before the end of instruction, Baldwin holds a final review session before the beginning of RRR Week. He takes advantage of the week off to attend and speak at conferences as well as complete research and service tasks.

For Joshua Weiner, an English graduate student instructor, dead week acts as the end of the line for him with his classes since he has little to do with the creation of final exams.

Weiner said his days mostly consist of meeting with students about their final essays and preparing himself to grade the final incoming assignments for his class.

English professor David Landreth chooses to focus on holding review sessions for his students as well as coordinating with his GSIs during dead week. He meets with GSIs to prepare for eventually grading each exam and to talk about any interesting or surprising concepts that came out of their last batch of graded essays.

Although his exams are geared toward literary analysis as opposed to problem sets as in the sciences, Landreth says that “the preparation of an exam is straightforward for a professor who has done it before in any discipline.”

Contact Erum Khan at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Baldwin was a UC Berkeley student. In fact he attended UC Santa Barbara as student.