Ever wonder how the University decides when Winter Break begins and classes end?

This year, Winter Break lasts only 23 days—eight fewer days than last year and two fewer than the year before. The opposite scenario happened next year, when five extra days of Winter Break were awarded to students. But although it may seem that the semester was purposefully made longer, calendar fluctuations are the real culprit, said University Registrar Frank Blalark. 

The University Schedule Committee reviews the academic calendar for the University, submitting a final proposal to the provost for approval. This year, classes began Aug. 29., slightly later than they have the past two years.  Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek, a non-voting member of the committee, explained that the semester must be long enough for classes to satisfy certain requirements. 

“There are a certain number of class days and class hours,” Wasiolek said. "Every class has a set number of hours that it has to meet."

Spring classes start on a Wednesday but still follow a Monday schedule, for example, to account for no classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  

When making the academic calendar, the committee—which includes members of Duke Student Government as well as graduate students—also considers the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s academic calendar. Wasiolek added this was not a significant driving factor, but the calendars have to line up to a certain degree so that the campus-connecting Robertson buses can operate. 

After the committee deliberates and has a calendar, it is sent to Provost Sally Kornbluth, who then gives final approval. 

The University does offer a Winter term with extremely limited course offerings. There is also a Winter Forum held before the Spring begins, during which students and faculty explore and discuss a major global issue without any academic expectations. The upcoming forum will focus on energy inequality and clean energy solutions. 

When asked how students can make the most of their Winter Break, Wasiolek recommended that students focus on relaxing activities.

“[Students should] reflect on what’s best for them and focus on activities that are most restorative," she said. "Whether it’s sleeping or reading or traveling, whatever maximizes their ability to disconnect from their normal Duke routine."