Fall reading week debate stretches nationwide

A number of Canadian universities are now toying with the idea of instituting a reading week during their fall semesters in order to improve the student experience.

Although the change has not been without resistance at some institutions, the overwhelming majority of feedback regarding the implementation of the weeklong break has been positive.

The Ryerson University student senate passed a motion on Jan. 25 to shorten their fall semester in order to make room for a break for students.

“The argument can be made that there is space for a break because we have a longer teaching semester than most other schools,” said Liana Salvador, vice president: education for Ryerson University’s Students’ Union.

“So the move to 12-week semesters in order to make space for a break is a pretty legitimate one.”

What makes creating fall reading weeks difficult and unique for every university is coming up with the days to give students’ the time off without cutting into required instructional time.

“Every institution had different realities when it came to creating [a fall reading week],” said University of Alberta (U of A) undergraduate student president Nick Dehod, whose union is holding a plebiscite to ensure student support behind beginning their fall semester at the end of August to account for a reading week in the fall semester.

University of Ottawa (U of O) students experienced their first fall reading week this past October; registrar for the university Eric Bercier explained that creating the break came through eliminating days during the fall exam period and the special “University of Ottawa Day” and taking one day from their orientation week to create the week-long period mid-semester.

“It was really a combination of finding a few days here and there,” explained Bercier.

Options for Laurier

For Laurier, whose schedule currently includes only a reading week in the winter semester, registrar Ray Darling explained that instituting a fall equivalent has been up for discussion.

“There is a small committee on campus that actually met yesterday [Jan. 24],” said Darling. “When I passed the academic dates at senate last fall, a couple of issues came up with the fall [semester] and one of them was the question of a fall reading week, and the other was around orientation.”

Darling explained that to create a fall reading week at Laurier — whose scheduling is already very tight, unlike its winter and spring counterparts — extra days would have to be cut and Orientation Week is one of the places the committee is looking. Darling explained that discussion at the meeting also turned to implementing a long weekend break instead of an entire week.

“Other universities like Waterloo start their classes on the Thursday after the Labour Day and have a shortened orientation period, so those are things we’re looking at for Laurier right now,” said Darling, who said the committee is in communication with groups on campus such as Residence Life to determine the value of a weeklong Orientation Week.

“We’ve been happy with our longer period,” said Darling of Laurier’s O-Week, “But realize we can’t have both.”

Positive feedback

The U of O instituted their fall reading week and Ryerson University and the U of A have begun discussing the option of its implementation as a result of lobbying from their respective students’ associations.

“It’s something that we were mandated to do when we were elected as student representatives but also that students voted in favour of at one of our general meetings,” said Salvador.

Dehod also explained that when running for president of his students’ union, he included lobbying for a fall reading week on his platform.

Bercier mentioned that the idea of a fall reading week was originally brought to the university by the students’ federation.

Though regularly brought forth by student representatives, the reasons for the creation of a fall reading week differ depending on which institution is proposing or creating the weeklong break.

For Dehod, whose concern regarding being more proactive about mental health initiatives in his role as the U of A’s Student’s Union vice president of student life, a fall reading week was an important avenue to explore.

“Our student counselling services had last year the highest usage numbers in November so in recognizing that February winter reading weeks are established to deal with the mental health there, November seemed like another time to take a look at,” Dehod explained.

For other institutions, the idea of creating a break to relieve students’ stress and give them the opportunity to study is a primary concern.

“We’re pushing for a fall reading week because we want students to have an opportunity to have some time off to catch up,” said Salvador.

No matter what the reason, Bercier said feedback from their instituted fall
reading week has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’re quite happy to have introduced this for students. It’s a great enhancement to the student experience and the students were very pleased. The feedback we received this year was very positive.”

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