Senate will take up motion to extend fall term break pilot

AMS president says motion “doesn’t reflect” recommendations of Society

AMS President Auston Pierce criticized Senate's motion to extend current fall term break structure.
Journal File Photo

Senate will motion next week to extend the current iteration of the fall term break into a fourth year, extending its pilot past the three-year timeline and kicking a review of the policy down the road.

The motion, to be taken up at the Jan. 28 Senate meeting, would mandate a review of the current break by the Senate Committee on Academic Procedures (SCAP) beginning in fall 2020, a year after the pilot was supposed to be complete. The motion requests SCAP report its review to Senate no later than February 2021.

Opposition to the current break mounted last semester when the AMS released survey results from more than 1,800 students which found that a majority didn’t think the fall term break helped their mental health. In November, the Arts and Science Faculty Board rejected the 2021-22 academic year in opposition to the current break.

“There’s a problem [with the implications of the Senate motion],” AMS President Auston Pierce said in an interview with The Journal. “The University is looking to extend the three-year pilot project to another year. We have data that says that’s not what we should be doing.” 

Pierce pointed out that, if the review is pushed until next year, there will only be one cohort of students remaining who experienced the current format of the break and having no break.

“If we don’t have students who are able to properly evaluate their experiences, then the data is not going to be as useful as it could be,” Pierce said. 

He believes rather than extending the pilot another year, the University needs to start collecting data about the break. “Student groups such the AMS, ASUS and EngSoc have already collected information, but the University hasn’t,” he said. “We need to ensure that consultation is properly done.”

The AMS survey, now closed, garnered 1,845 responses. It received more responses from first and second years than any other AMS survey this year.

The survey results were reported to SCAP, but Pierce is disappointed with the conclusions he believes Senators have drawn from the report. “Their motion didn’t reflect our recommendation or our asks. The current motion doesn’t reflect any of the consultations the AMS has done with students.”

Pierce said the message the Society’s report sends is clear. “The biggest [takeaway] is that the majority of students do not find that the fall term break helps their mental health or relieving any pressures or stresses from their academic lives.”

Another major issue with the current format is travel, according to Pierce. “A very large percentage of students feel that the fall term break is not a sufficient period of time for them to return home,” he said.

A majority of survey respondents wanted the two-day break to be attached to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. “Students strongly believe [this format] is the most logical alternative and would be much more conducive to the reduction of academic stress before midterms,” Pierce said.

He’s hopeful the motion will be debated, and perhaps altered, at Senate on Tuesday. “There are a lot of Senators who care passionately about this, both faculty, students, and administrators,” he said. “I think once they have the data in front of them and they see how clear this choice should be, and the importance of properly consulting the largest stakeholder on campus, that the right decision will be made.”
Pierce is also concerned that the review of fall term break will have to include how it impacts Orientation Week. Pierce said he’s heard from Orientation Week leaders, as well as some students, who said having two days of class amidst Orientation Week is confusing and decreases engagement.
“The University hasn’t done any consultations. There needs to be a very robust, in-depth review of everything,” Pierce said.
“Students are the largest stakeholder in this, and if their voices aren’t considered, with the data we have now, which is very strong, it’s just not fair to students who the fall break is supposed to be helping,” he said.

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