No plans for fall reading week

More universities adopt second reading weeks, but Queen's may not follow suit

AMS vice-president of university affairs Kieran Slobodin says bringing a fall reading week to Queen's would mean starting school earlier in August.
AMS vice-president of university affairs Kieran Slobodin says bringing a fall reading week to Queen's would mean starting school earlier in August.
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This year, the University of Ottawa implemented a fall reading week for the first time.
This year, the University of Ottawa implemented a fall reading week for the first time.

University of Ottawa students took a week-long break in October for the first time as part of their newly-created fall reading week. Next year, Ryerson students will join the trend toward a fall­-term break for university students.

Trent University, University of Toronto and University of Calgary also have fall-term reading weeks.

Queen’s considered a fall reading week in 2007, when Sivan Nitzan, ArtSci ’09, brought the question to AMS winter referendum, but students voted against the idea.

If it had received popular vote, the decision would be non-binding — meaning administration wouldn’t be obligated to follow-through with the students’ recommendation.

“I think that stress is a big problem for a lot of students,” Nitzan told the Journal in 2007. “We can’t keep in line with all of our classes while studying for midterms properly.”

Rebecca Coupland, assistant to the University Registrar, said there are no plans for Queen’s to adopt a fall reading week anytime soon.

Fall reading weeks typically shorten 13-week terms to 12, a corner that Coupland said Queen’s can’t afford to cut.

“Orientation Week is a full week as well,” she said. “Some universities you might know will start class on a Thursday [of Frosh Week] so they get a few more days of classes.”

Coupland also sits on the Senate Committee on Academic Procedures. It dictates sessional dates for the University. She said the potential for a fall reading week at Queen’s hasn’t been discussed by the committee.

“Things would come bottom-up from faculties for this,” she said. “And it hasn’t yet.”

University Senate can also table topics for discussion.

“The Senate Committee is discussing some things this year that relate to student mental health,” Coupland said. “We haven’t been asked to discuss it [fall reading week] yet.”

Political studies professor Jonathan Rose said he’s wary of the potential for a fall reading week at Queen’s.

“I think shortening it would only affect the curriculum,” he said.

Ultimately, students might not benefit from the break, Rose said.

“Students work harder at midterms and finals than they do at other parts of the term,” he said. “But that’s sort of the nature of the term.”

Midterm feedback from professors is more feasible when they have the opportunity to test students’ knowledge in advance of term finals, he said.

“If we were to say there’s too much work around Thanksgiving, the problem would be, as you staggered those midterms to November, students would have no feedback until they pass the drop due date for the course,” Rose said.

Almost a decade of discussion went into University of Ottawa implementing their fall reading week this year.

The Student Federation vice-president of university affairs at the University of Ottawa proposed a motion for a fall reading week in 2009, but the break didn’t come to fruition until this fall.

“ … It will directly improve the lives of our students,” Ted Horton told the Charlatan in 2009. “From more preparation time for exams and final assignments, to less student stress, it’s a terrific improvement and I’m pleased to be able to bring this change for students.”

Ryerson University’s fall vacation was addressed by its student government’s then-vice-president in January.

Ryerson’s vice-president of education Melissa Palermo said the decision to implement the fall reading week came from a student call to have extra exam study time and catch up on readings.

“When we did the research of how many weeks in a semester, we looked into that and how students would be able to squeeze the same amount of learning in that time,” she said. “We found that we could shorten a 12-week semester and still be able to include all the teaching that went into there.”

Palermo said the largest concern for Ryerson’s registrar was ensuring students in the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Science could pack in their mandatory term hours in a 12-week condensed semester.

“I’d say it’s something successful and something a lot of students asked for,” she said. “It’s something we’re all looking forward to here at Ryerson.”

Queen’s students won’t be looking forward to the same break.

Kieran Slobodin, AMS vice-president of university affairs, said the introduction of a fall reading week could have a large impact on the student body.

“Fall Reading week is a complicated issue visited by Queen’s students in the past,” he told the Journal via email. “While students certainly could use a break from studies, many changes would have to occur to accommodate the extra week in the fall term … Orientation, exams, midterms, and students’ summer earnings would all be impacted.”

According to Slobodin, ArtSci ’12, academic semesters can’t be shortened. This means an added week of vacation would call for the fall term beginning earlier in August.

“It’s a complex issue that extends beyond the philosophy of a week to catch up on readings,” he said.

Rector Nick Francis said a potential fall reading week has been the most popular issue brought to him since his election on Oct. 26.

“My first student meeting was about fall reading week,” Francis, ArtSci ’13, said. “I was really surprised that this is something that students clearly still want.”

Francis said heightened stress around midterm season is a reason why fall reading week should be implemented.

“Oftentimes, students will sacrifice their class time to focus on their midterms,” he said. “But after their midterms are done, they are actually in a worse place because now they’re playing the catch-up game and then it falls right into finals.”

Francis said time can be allocated from other school breaks in order to support a fall reading week.

“They would have to condense Frosh Week,” he said, adding that shortening the winter break might be an option as well.

So far, Francis has only brought the issue to ASUS assembly. He said he plans to speak to administration about the possibility of a fall reading week as well.

“When you look at the mental health issues we’ve had in the most recent past, maybe it is something that we do need to open up again,” he said.

“It also comes up with the concern ... is it just because students want another break? I’m not really sure.”

— With files from Janina Enrile

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