Could McGill have a Fall reading week?

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As the Fall semester drives on towards finals, many McGill students look wistfully towards other universities that have implemented a Fall break in recent years.

While Fall reading weeks used to be unusual for Canadian universities, the additional break is quickly becoming the norm. For the first time this year, a majority of public Ontario universities—11 out of 20— have decided to set aside two to five class-free days in October or November.

New universities to implement this strategy this year are Brock University, Carleton University, McMaster University, and Western University. Others, however, introduced their break much earlier—for example, Trent University has had a Fall break since 1964.

An often-cited reason for the implementation of these Fall breaks is to address the rising concern over students’ mental health by offering an opportunity for students to catch up on schoolwork and spend time with friends or family before final exams begin.

In a report by Western’s weekly newspaper, Western News, John Doerksen, vice-provost (Academic Programs and Students) said that Western implemented its Fall Break , an additional two days off before the last weekend of October, in order to allow students to focus on their studies and reduce academic stress.

“The Fall study days provide students with a block of time to begin end-of-terms projects and essays, to catch up on other course work, or simply to catch their breath,” Doerksen said. “I’m hopeful the break will mitigate some of the anxiety that students may feel as important course deadlines approach.”

Dr. Perry Adler, associate director of the Teen Health Unit at the Jewish General Hospital, said he would support a Fall break at McGill based on his experience providing for university-aged patients.

“Most [of the patients’ stresses] negatively affect their abilities to meet their academic responsibilities,” Adler said. “Having a break from school in the Fall semester would help many students.”

Julia Martschenko, a student at the University of Toronto, said that she appreciated having the break last year.

“The Fall break is great because it gives me another opportunity to go home and visit family and friends,” Martschenko said. “I really appreciated it last year as I used the days without classes to catch up on the work that had piled up during midterm season.”

McGill’s Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens said the break would be beneficial to the McGill community, but that logistical issues complicate the addition of a break to McGill’s already full calendar.

“[This decision] would involve all sorts of units—facilities, issues with residences, with dining services—[and cause] all sorts of pedagogical issues,” Dyens said. “The university is based on collegial governance. You [have] to get a buy-in from everyone, [including] the academic sector, the dean, the students, and the graduate students.”

According to Dyens, the possibility of a Fall break has been discussed among the McGill administration and there could be potential for one to be implemented in the coming years if the Fall semester were stretched further into December.

“The Quebec government mandates a certain amount of contact hours between the students and professors,” he said. “A certain number of hours has to be [completed] in that small window [….] I believe we could have a Fall break but that would mean a longer semester—for example, until Dec. 23.”

However, some Quebec universities have been able to implement all fall break. In October, L’ École Polytechnique de Montréal has a week-long Fall break from Nov. 14-18. Instead of Finishing their semester on Dec. 18th like McGill, L’ École Polytechnique de Montréal finishes their semester on Dec. 20.

Dyens said that while the procedure is complicated, he is open to suggestions.

“If it is brought up enough by students, I would welcome them to come and see me,” he said. “We’ll organize a meeting with the registrar and we’ll discuss this—especially if it’s important for the students.”

When considering the possibility of implementing a fall reading break, SSMU Vice-President (University Affairs) Joey Shea stressed that although a few days off school would have an effect, this may not address the root of the issue of student stress.

“[With] the overall intensity of McGill and the academic pressures, there are bigger factors that affect mental health,” Shea said. “I think we need to take a more general approach to mental health—being as important as your physical health and academics—rather than just [taking] a week off school.”

 

—Additional reporting by Annie Xie