Something vital urges assignments past the ten-week mark. Something whispers the promise of a post-term era where term papers write themselves. To those beleaguered hearts who hold their ground against the University of Chicago’s curricular hegemony, the indefinite extension comes dressed in a diplomat’s garb — still embroidered with the suzerain’s crest. Many of my friends here working on their papers now four days past the end of the quarter lose this much of their winter break.
The academic quarter is a terrible thing to inflict on a person. Take your standard four-month semester and cram it unabridged into ten weeks’ time. It takes a certain kind of overachiever, a certain kind of masochist to find nourishment in digesting this amount of post-secondary education in step with the change of seasons.
This institution just happens to be renowned for its overachievers and masochists, if reviled for its sadists. It should come as no surprise that the school’s founder and first president William Rainey Harper introduced the quarter system; four generations of Nobel laureates testify to the strength of Harper’s vision. This is a place that sculpts great minds.
The sculpting is a discipline. Where one professor’s syllabus recommends, “Prepare excellently,” it is not dispensing good advice but stipulating scholastic austerity. Not long into a University of Chicago education the expectation on one’s time is stated plainly. In trade for subsuming personal desires, dreams, and freedom to the totality of academic life in this place, the student is allowed a limited number of days off between quarters.
Time and freedom are the true costs of education here, and something deeply human rages to displace the units of the program’s strict regimentation. Something wants the quarter done, and that same wanting thing perpetuates it.