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Johns Hopkins to retake Friday

The Baltimore Sun

Rob Pietroforte, a senior at the Johns Hopkins University, hasn't had a Friday class since the first semester of his freshman year. A scheduling anomaly made this happy arrangement possible for many Hopkins students, and Pietroforte has used his free time to see the world.

"There was a period last year when I was gone seven out of eight weekends," the economics major said. "I went to Las Vegas for my buddy's 21st birthday. I went to New York to visit my friend from home. I went to Ohio State for the Ohio State-Michigan game. I went to Amherst for the Amherst-Williams game. Florida, just to hang out with my cousin."

And Bethany Beach, Del., with his family. And Ohio State a second time, because really, why not?

Through all his travels, Pietroforte says he's managed to stay on the dean's list.

"I get a lot of work done on planes," he said.

Such perfection couldn't last. This semester, the Homewood campus undergraduate schedule, which is apparently unique in the country, will switch to a more conventional format. Administrators say - ominously, to the ears of some students - that when the spring term begins at the end of the month, Hopkins will "reclaim Fridays," by making it much harder to avoid late-week classes.

"There are studies that show that students who take classes on Friday mornings do better academically," said Adam Falk, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, which is adopting the new format along with the Whiting School of Engineering.

The new schedule attempts to balance the student lifestyle and combat "binge learning" by spreading classes throughout the week, instead of concentrating them at the beginning.

But academic gluttony can be an effective way to make time for other things, according to some underclassmen who have used their brainpower to engineer extended weekends. They devote their free Fridays to myriad purposes, many of them noble: internships at John Kerry's political action committee in Washington, research on HIV, and, this being Hopkins, good old-fashioned library time.

Then there are the Friday pursuits that the administration might not endorse. On long weekends, students also hit the Charles Village bars, head to the Inner Harbor for manicures, date people in Indiana, go home to New Jersey for Bon Jovi concerts, browse for delicacies at local farmers' markets and, perhaps most universally, sleep.

For his part, senior Dave Kurz will miss the Chinese buffet where he and his friends frequently lunch on Fridays. So many of his fraternity brothers have the day off that they often schedule house events starting in the afternoon - such as Pennsylvania ski excursions, and trips to Medieval Times.

Kurz was smitten with the idea of liberated Fridays well before he enrolled at Hopkins, when someone mentioned it on a campus tour for prospective students.

But even back then, the tradition was in jeopardy. Falk said that the school started rethinking its schedule about five years ago, when an internal report about the quality of student life suggested flaws in the status quo.

While classes at other schools usually meet every other day, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example, many Hopkins undergraduate courses meet on consecutive days: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Along with the potential for free Fridays, and sometimes even free Thursdays, this schedule leads to "front-loading" - cramming in work at the beginning of the week.

Of course, the old system had its advantages, which is why it's been in use so long - as far back as most anyone on staff can remember. Students aren't the only ones complaining about the change: Front-loading lets professors concentrate on research in the latter half of the week and in some cases allows them to commute from a distance.

But the students, it seems, put forth more exotic arguments. They want to attend distant baseball games, or head down to D.C. for a night at the opera.

On her free Fridays, Samantha Miller, 20, is accustomed to commuting to New York City for voice lessons and to meet with her agent. Next semester that will likely change.

"Now the week becomes, I don't know ... endless," the aspiring pop star said.

And then there are also those undergrads who reserve their long weekends to do as little as possible.

Alexander Vacharat, a mechanical engineering major better known as "The Vach," was delighted to find himself with a light late-week course load: an optional section and no lectures Thursday and Friday.

"I thought, starting Wednesday afternoon, I would be able to do work," said The Vach, a freshman. But he soon discovered there were too many other distractions - such as romping through the campus sprinkler system after midnight, then splattering friends with mud.

In terms of academics, he said, "I do nothing on Wednesdays. Nothing Thursdays, nothing Fridays, nothing Saturdays. On Sundays, I sleep late. Basically, [the schedule] gives me about six hours to do my work. And then I'm like, oh, crap."

The Vach said that he is almost relieved that the system is changing.

"Otherwise I would fail," he said.

Overall, the campus has mixed feelings about the Friday metamorphosis, said Scott Bierbryer, president of the Student Council.

"People have been caught off guard," he said. "Everyone logging onto the registrar's site [last semester] realized how much their schedule is going to be impacted."

Bierbryer, a senior, said he never had class on Fridays and liked to keep his Thursdays free when he could. Part of him wonders why all the other universities don't change their schedules in deference to Hopkins' clearly superior model.

"It's sad to see it go," he said. "I guess when we get together at alumni functions we'll talk about how Fridays used to be."

Other students refuse to give up the good fight. Rob Pietroforte, for instance, might well continue his globe-trotting lifestyle: This semester, he has somehow arranged to have classes only on Mondays and Wednesdays.

"Where there's a will there's a way," he said. "If you want a long weekend you can get one. We went to Atlantic City last weekend, and the fun's not going to stop."

Less fortunate students might continue grumbling. If they do, however, Dean Falk is armed with a sobering reminder from the annals of university history:

Hopkins used to hold class on Saturdays.

abigail.tucker@baltsun.com

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