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Why Does Vanderbilt Hold Classes on Labor Day? Examining the University’s Academic Calendar

Posted by on Friday, February 1, 2019 in Uncategorized.

September 2019All Vanderbilt undergraduate programs and many graduate and professional programs follow the official academic calendar, which is reviewed and maintained by a standing university committee in consulation with the schools and colleges.

Post-baccalaureate programs in Divinity, Engineering, the Graduate School, and Peabody follow the standard university academic calendar. The remaining schools (Law, Medicine, Nursing, and Owen) develop their calendars based on discipline-related accreditation and professional needs. Ultimately, the faculty in the academic programs/schools and colleges determine their calendars, but there are some constraints over how they are built. Thus, each school works collaboratively with the university registrar to ensure that accreditation guidelines are met and standards adhered to.

The University Academic Calendar Committee has created a set of guidelines to inform the academic calendar each year. Specifications include:

  • 15-week semesters are required to meet federal and accreditation standards related to instructional contact hours.
  • Commencement is the second Friday of May.
    • In practice, between May 8-14
  • Fall semester begins after August 15, but prior to September 1.
    • In practice, between August 20-26
  • Fall final exams should end prior to December 22.
    • In practice, between December 13-19
  • Ensure 42 MWF and 28 TTh class sessions.
    • Labor Day is a class day; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not
  • Fall break should occur on the Thursday/Friday after the seventh week of class.
    • The weekend after the eighth week of class is the first alternate; the weekend after the sixth week of class is the second alternate
  • Ensure a full-week break during Thanksgiving week.
  • Ensure a full-week break during spring semester, starting on the Saturday following the eighth week of class.

The question is occasionally asked about adjusting the academic calendar to make Labor Day a class holiday. Such a change would require an extra day of instruction, and accommodating that day would require either starting the semester earlier, ending the semester later, or modifying the existing holiday structure (for example, taking a day from fall break or Thanksgiving week). Starting the semester earlier would require adjustments to orientation, the student move-in schedule, etc.; ending later would result in a later final exam period.

The only programs that officially list Labor Day as a class holiday are in the School of Nursing and the MD program in the School of Medicine. The School of Nursing starts and ends classes one day after the official academic calendar, and has no fall break; the MD program utilizes a year-based academic calendar verses semester.

In accordance with their corresponding faculty governance procedures, the schools and colleges review and consider changes to the calendar.


Bart Quinet

Assistant Provost and University Registrar

Chair, University Academic Calendar Committee