McGill Senate responds to petition for extended winter break

Jules Barbe, U2 Arts & Science, shared a document authored by Elle Bremmer, U3 Arts, titled “Petition for an Extended Winter Holiday,” on Nov. 10, asking the administration to consider extending the current 12-day break. Since then, the petition has garnered over 9,000 signatures. During a Nov. 18 Senate meeting, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier announced McGill’s official response to the issue, saying a decision would be reached at the Dec. 2 Senate meeting. 

Barbe began the online petition after observing the adverse emotional and psychological toil the online semester has had on his peers.

“I kept seeing on social media, mainly [on] Reddit, how hard the semester was for my fellow students,” Barbe wrote in an email to the Tribune. “[It has been] very hard on students and professors alike. It’s very easy to […] see first-hand how students were impacted by online school [its] many challenges. ”

Barbe believes that McGill’s inaction on the issue is only exacerbated in comparison to other Quebec institutions that have already implemented a longer holiday.

“[E]veryone seemed completely defeated, especially seeing how other universities were getting a longer break themselves,” Barbe wrote. “Nothing’s [going to] change if we don’t try anything.”

On Nov. 20, a MRO McGill Communications email announced the administration’s intention to vote on extending the Winter 2021 semester at Dec. 2’s Senate meeting. Barbe expressed enthusiasm that his efforts have seemingly resulted in action from the administration.

“[The] announcement from the admin that they are sincerely planning to extend the break […] is a very good response […], and I’m looking forward to the decision they will make,” Barbe wrote. “This definitely made me more hopeful.”

Vice-President of University Affairs of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Brooklyn Frizzle helped disseminate the petition after Barbe reached out to SSMU. Frizzle explained to The McGill Tribune that it was important for SSMU to endorse the petition because they are an organization meant to advocate on behalf of the student body.

“[The petition] gained traction immediately after its release and the next logical step was to ask the Executive Committee to endorse the petition on behalf of SSMU, which we hoped would add some legitimacy to our efforts,” Frizzle wrote. “More broadly, this is an issue that students feel incredibly strongly about, and it just made sense for SSMU to put some force behind the petition.”

Frizzle explained that extending the break would benefit students who are feeling frustrated and burnt out by the online semester.

“Students need a break—it’s that simple,” Frizzle wrote. “We’re overworked and under-equipped to deal with such a chaotic and emotionally taxing semester. An extra week off is the least the university can do [….] I think faculty need this break as much as we do, not only to rest but to prepare.”

Frizzle responded to the university’s official consideration of an extended winter break, voicing their concerns with the process ahead.

“The fact that it took an emergency Senate motion […] on top of a petition with nearly 9,000 signatures for the university to even formally acknowledge the possibility of extending the break is telling in and of itself,” Frizzle wrote. “My concern […] is that if the university does end up announcing an extended break, they’ll do so without acknowledging the tremendous amount of student labour [involved].”

At the McGill Senate meeting on Nov. 18, Fortier did not provide a concrete explanation of the administration’s current plans.

“There was a motion submitted [Nov. 17] asking Senate to defer the start of the winter term by one week,” Fortier said. “We are actively exploring the possibility of adjusting the calendar of dates in order to postpone the beginning of classes in the winter term.”

Fortier acknowledged the need for an expedient decision-making process.

“We know it is very important for us to make a decision on this matter very soon, but […] we [need to] take the time needed to make a considered decision,” Fortier said. “We’re expecting to bring a motion to Senate on this matter in two week’s time, [on Dec. 2].”

A previous version of this article stated that Jules Barbe began the petition. In fact, it was Elle Bremmer who wrote the petition, and Barbe who disseminated it. The Tribune regrets this error.

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