Senate OK’s Fall Reading Week

With Reading Week in full swing, Western’s Senate approved a similar study break in October. Late last week, Senators unanimously voted in favour of a Fall Reading Week, replacing the current two-day study break.

With the support of the University Students’ Council, student senators, the office of the Vice Provost (Academic Programs) and the office of the Vice Provost (Student Experience), the Fall Reading Week would be scheduled for Oct. 9-13, the first day being the Thanksgiving holiday.

Sheila Macfie, chair of the Senate Committee on Academic Policy and Awards (SCAPA), said an ad hoc committee was created last fall to look into the possibility of having a full week break in the fall term. SCAPA first wanted to look at the impact such a change might have on the structure of the academic year – considering the required number of teaching days and contact hours for undergraduate courses, policies around acceptable exam dates, policies around providing students with grades prior to course drop dates and other areas.

As part of their review, the committee learned three quarters of the universities in Ontario, and more than half of universities in Canada, scheduled four or more study days during the fall term.

“A few factors fed into our recommendation,” said Macfie. “The primary factor was that many, if not most, of the undergraduate programs have moved (or are moving) from offering full courses to offering half courses.”

In the past, when more courses ran from September to April, the particularly stressful times fell just prior to the December break, with mid-year exams. Now that many courses are completed within the fall term, the new stressful time appears during fall mid-term exams, around October.

“With more half courses, it made sense to us to try to provide meaningful breaks in each term,” she said.

Last year, students were given the opportunity to complete a survey about the current two-day fall break, with the vast majority indicating a longer break would be better – and a break during the same week of Thanksgiving would be preferable for the opportunity to visit family, Macfie added.

Fitting in a full-week break in the fall could pose a problem, she said, which is why two of the existing policies are tied to the proposal for Friday’s Senate meeting – both having to do with the requirement to provide students with at least 15 per cent of their final grade a week before the deadline for dropping a course.

A full week break means mid-terms and assignments would be compressed into a shorter time frame, potentially putting more pressure on students. By moving the deadline to drop a course back by a week, and relaxing the ‘15 per cent’ rule (providing students the grades at least three days before the drop date) makes it more feasible to accommodate a week-long break.  Other policies might have to be examined as well, added Macfie.

A Fall Reading Week would not affect international students who are unable to travel back home as residences will be open during the break, just as they are during the upcoming Reading Week.

SCAPA is recommending a two-year pilot on the proposed Fall Reading Week so other conflicts that may become apparent can be addressed.