Framing the consultation for a Fall Break

Friday, November 21, 2014

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Students, faculty and staff

Mario Coniglio, Assoc. Vice-President, Academic

Framing the consultation for a Fall Break

This email is for information and for action

 

As many of you will know, 74 per cent of the undergraduate students who participated in a recent referendum voted “yes” to the question: "Should classes start on the first Thursday after Labour Day to allow for two additional days off in the fall term?"

The Fall Break Task Force is now undertaking a broad consultation with campus members who will be affected by a break in order to gather their views on the idea of a break and determine its feasibility. Besides undergraduates, others with a vested interest in this process include graduate students, faculty and staff.

The question as to whether or not to implement a break will be debated fully and will be voted on at an upcoming Senate meeting. The purpose of this consultation is to inform that discussion by ensuring we have a good understanding of important issues for each group. In particular, we will focus on conditions that must be met in order to accommodate a break, including how we might schedule a break that balances pedagogical needs with the wellbeing of our students.

A Fall Break is likely to affect the Fall Term at: the start of the term (e.g., orientation, start of classes, move-in days), the middle of term (when the break actually occurs), and the end of the term depending on whether sufficient accommodation occurs at the start of the term (e.g., Sunday exams, fewer study days).

The framework guiding the campus consultation is as follows:

  1. Fall term breaks are common: Almost all Ontario universities have a Fall Break ranging in duration from 2 to 5 days. Most that do not have a Fall Break are currently contemplating one.
  2. The idea of a mid-term break is not a new concept for uWaterloo: Following Family Day (which is a holiday Monday), we currently hold a Winter Reading Break of four days duration in mid-February. While not a holiday, most students, faculty and staff would agree that this break is a welcome pause. There is no reason to think that a Fall Break would need to be approached any differently.
  3. The Fall Term is widely seen as a “pressure cooker”: While first year students may experience enhanced levels of stress as a result of transition issues, students at all levels are very much affected by course demands, in no small part due to the number of midterm exams that are scheduled.
  4. Implementation would be challenging due to scheduling issues: There is no perfect schedule to accommodate a Fall Break, especially as we must work around Labour Day. The most promising way forward is to start classes earlier by abbreviating or changing orientation activities, so that classes commence on the first Thursday following Labour Day. Other possible accommodations exist, but these are generally more problematic than starting classes earlier.
  5. The timing and length of the break is key: The goal is one of choosing a time and length of break that will have maximum benefit to student success. At the same time, we need to choose a time and length that will not adversely affect current scheduling practices. Special consideration will have to be given to the days chosen for the break, and the impact of November 11 as a possible statutory holiday.

The Fall Break Task Force Report can be found on the Associate Vice-President, Academic website. The Task Force wants to hear from you to ensure we understand the issues that should inform Senate’s discussion of a Fall Break. You are welcome to submit your comments in writing to the Office of the Associate Vice-President, Academic at NH 3006 or by emailing fallbreak@uwaterloo.ca. The deadline for receiving your comments is Friday, December 19, 2014.

Sincerely,

Mario Coniglio

Associate Vice-President, Academic

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