Senate sluggishness means fall reading break still a long way off

In keeping with the time-honoured tradition of UBC students begging for a fall reading break that never materializes, it seems that 2018 is not going to look any different.

As it stands, UBC and McGill are the only top-tier Canadian universities to not have reading breaks. As was pointed out in a previous Ubyssey article, York University has had one since 2009 and even UBC’s Okanagan campus has some semblance of a reading break in the form of an extended Remembrance Day weekend.

The Senate is doing work to allow for a fall reading break, according to Kevin Doering, a student member of UBC Vancouver’s Senate.

“If you’re wondering what work has been done, there has been significant work and continued effort in the Senate.” This, clarifies Doering, does not mean we will have a reading week anytime soon.

Considering the logistics that accompany the introduction of a fall reading break, the Senate has considered numerous possible ways in which a reading break could be added to the fall semester with minimal disruption.

“[The academic policy committee] has been working ... to specifically identify what options students most prefer in terms of having a fall reading week,” said Doering. “Whether it’s one day tacked onto something, or two days tacked onto something, or a whole week is very much up in the air.”

Another possibility regarding the scheduling of a fall reading week is to cut short the number of exam days. This could be done, said Doering, by having examinations on Sundays, but a more condensed exam period would allow for greater scheduling conflicts. Doering also believes that cutting down on study breaks during the exam period to allow for a reading break seems counterintuitive.

One of the main challenges that the committee faces when considering the issue of a fall reading week is UBC’s minimum number of teaching days — they would either have to reduce the minimum number of days or have to find other ways to take away teaching days and add them somewhere else. UBC currently has 60 teaching days in its fall semester — the second-lowest in the country after the University of Toronto (which does have a fall reading break).

Speaking to the argument that reading week is much-needed in order to improve student wellbeing and mental health, Doering said, “One of the first concerns that the university has is that students should be receiving good value for their tuition.”

Dr. Stephen Barnes, assistant head of undergraduate affairs for UBC’s department of psychology and a longtime creator of and advocate for mental health initiatives at UBC, argues for the prioritization of students’ mental health.

“It would probably be beneficial to students to have a fall reading break, and it would probably be beneficial to faculty as well,” he said in an interview with The Ubyssey. Barnes also said that, as per research studies at both McMaster University and the University of Windsor, the introduction of a fall reading week saw a decrease in self-reported stress levels among students for the semester as a whole.

“As of 2016 about ... 50 of the 70 universities that were looked at ... had fall breaks. UBC is actually in a minority compared to other universities in not having a fall break,” said Barnes.

Doering does acknowledge the need for positive mental health among students but said, “I think the university wants to ensure that they aren’t teaching less days for the same ... cost on students.”

In terms of which direction the Senate is currently leaning, it seems most probable that UBC will see a reduction in the number of teaching days. “Right now, I would say ... people are inclined to reduce the overall number of teaching days by one and then add one day on somewhere.”

“It has been a slow process,” said Doering. “At this point I would say it’s very very likely that we will have at least one day ... in another year or two years, something like that.”