Tracing the Myth of a Fall Reading Week

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With McGill students enjoying their break from the semester during the Spring Reading Break, SSMU has recently provided an update on the effort to institute a Fall Reading Break at McGill.

In an email addressed to all McGill students, SSMU reported that 96.6% of undergraduates voted in favor of implementing a Fall Reading Break in a 2019 referendum. In response to these findings, the Enrollment and Student Affairs Advisory Committee (ESAAC) formed the Subcommittee on Fall Reading Break (SFRB) in January of 2019. In March of 2019, “the SFRB reported that the Fall Reading Break was feasible, but that further consultation was required.” 

Currently, the SSMU and the SFRB are grappling with the dilemma of implementing a Fall Reading Break while maintaining enough instructional hours for institutional accreditation. 

The SFRB conducted further consultations on this topic in the Fall of 2019, with consideration to 75% of students voting in favor of starting the Fall term in late August. The sub-committee will present their findings later this term. From there, “any recommendation will go to the Senate for approval.”

The SFRB report, which can be found here, details possible solutions for the logistical problems of creating the break, such as a shorter exam period every two out of ten years, students having one less week to work during the summer, or professors having one less week for research and conferences during the summer. The report also includes a summary of the referendum results and examples of how other Canadian universities have implemented their Fall breaks. 

McGill’s fight for a Fall Reading Break has many parallels with the University of Toronto’s, with over 90% of Arts & Science students at the University of Toronto voting yes on a similar referendum in 2016, the resulting trade-off being starting classes earlier to supplement lost instructional days, similarly to SSMU’s proposal.

The sentiment for Fall Reading Break has been alive for longer than most students have been at McGill.

However, the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) at the University of Toronto was able to institute a fall reading week a year after they held their referendum; over one year later, McGill students are still waiting on a second report before they can await any motion regarding the Fall Reading Break reaching the Senate. 

Current SSMU president, Bryan Buraga, campaigned on a platform of bringing a Fall Reading Break by 2020. While the final academic calendar for the 2020-2021 year is not yet out, it seems doubtful that this goal will come to fruition considering that the SFRB will only be presenting its second report by the end of the semester, leaving little time for the Senate to vote on it before they approve the 2020-2021 academic calendar. 

In 2017, the McGill Reporter spoke to Ollivier Dyens, former Deputy Provost at McGill, regarding the attempt to institute a Fall Reading Break, explaining that the unpopularity of beginning the term before Labour Day, making the holiday break shorter, or condensing the exam schedule made the initiative nonviable. 

According to Dyens, some faculties additionally refused to participate in a Fall Reading Break, presenting an institutional obstacle to its creation. While the results of the 2019 referendum indicate a different sentiment, the continued struggle for a fall reading week makes its accomplishment an ever-more elusive target. 

SSMU previously proposed a Fall Reading Break in 2015, of which the full report can be accessed here. A survey conducted by SSMU in April of 2015 indicated that 71.5% of students would want to introduce a Fall Reading Break, suggesting that support for the initiative has increased over the years. 

The 2015 report details similar proposals to the 2019 report for creating the break, as well as ideas that have largely been abandoned due to unpopularity or infeasibility, such as holding final exams on Saturdays, or allowing flexibility between faculties in administering the break. Concerns from administration regarding the utility of the break, as well as resistance to change, were cited as additional obstacles to implementing the break. 

The sentiment for Fall Reading Break has been alive for longer than most students have been at McGill, yet the creation of the SFRB is the closest McGill has come to establishing a Fall Reading Break. While the past initiatives don’t inspire confidence, the current initiative seems to be the strongest one yet; perhaps this will be the year McGill students finally see the myth of a Fall Reading Break become reality. After all, it was only in 1992 that SSMU successfully campaigned for the Spring Reading Break students cherish today.

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