With no fall reading break slated for 2020, UBC launches consultation survey

While there are no plans for a fall reading break in 2020, the Senate is launching a student and faculty consultation that could lead to a break in future years.

The survey will collect responses from February 26 to March 13 to understand how students and faculty feel about the tradeoffs associated with implementing the break in the fall term.

With many logistical hurdles such as numbers of teaching days and exam schedules, the debate around fall reading break has been ongoing for decades.

“We joke at the working group that this has been discussed as far back as the early 1900s at UBC. So this really is, in some ways, the issue of the century,” said UBC Vancouver Student Senator Max Holmes.

Dr. Kin Lo, Chair of the Academic Year Working Group on the UBC Vancouver Senate emphasized that fall reading break is really about tradeoffs.

“It’s not just an issue of whether our working group or the committee or the senate wants to have a break,” explained Lo.

“It’s that we are working within constraints and we have to think about: ‘within those constraints what can we do to find the days?’”

Clearing the hurdles

One of the biggest hurdles to fall reading break is the limited amount of teaching days in the fall term.

Once Labour Day, Thanksgiving and Remembrance day are taken into account there are only 62 teaching days remaining in the fall term. Certain programs, like engineering, are accredited courses — meaning it requires at least 61 teaching days to ensure it meets program requirements.

It is also important for UBC to have a consistent number of teaching days in the first and second terms so that courses offered in both terms are comparable and provide similar learning experiences for students. With all this taken into account, incorporating a week-long break into a limited number of days has proven to be a challenge.

Lo explained a number of options that were outlined in the consultation survey.

To create more teaching days within the fall semester, the final exam period could be shortened from 14 days to 12 days by running exams on Sundays.

But Sundays are historically used as back-up days for rescheduled exams that have been cancelled due to inclement weather, and so by running exams on Sundays, make-up exam dates would be held early on in the second term.

According to Lo, a second proposed solution is to shorten the break between the last day of classes and the first day of the exam period from three days to two, though this would give students less of a chance to prepare for their final exams before they begin.

The third solution would be to start classes after September 1, but before Labour Day, meaning that some years classes will begin as early as September 2 if Labour Day is early in the calendar year.

“Anything shorter would be sort of problematic in terms of the amount of engagement with students and … many students might not show up until the next week,” said Lo.

Alongside these external constraints, Lo explained the system databases would need to be changed, particularly if classes began before Labour Day, and modifying the databases might create a higher chance for error. Deadlines like the add-drop date and tuition refund dates would need to be adjusted to match the new academic calendar.

With Labour Day on September 7, 2020, this is one of the worst calendar years for implementing an impactful schedule change. According to Holmes, the academic calendar is decided upon in February and so it is too late to implement a break in the fall term.

But Lo is confident that creating smaller breaks are possible, such as adding on a day to Thanksgiving break or other pre-existing holidays to make the transition smoother.

“There could be smaller changes that could be implemented for next year that doesn’t involve changing the start of the term,” he explained.

Gathering input

To negotiate what tradeoffs students are willing to make, the Senate is launching a student survey with the results broken down to the faculty level to see what solutions have garnered support from which faculties.

According to Lo, the next logistical move will be dependent on the results of the survey, which will ask if students are “willing to have a more compressed exam schedule to find those extra days, are they willing to have two days instead of three days before exams start after the term?”

The results of the survey will help UBC begin the next steps to implement a break, which Holmes says is feasible.

“A reading break in the first term is feasible whether it’s, you know, all the way to a full week or even something shorter, we really just need to see what people are comfortable with,” said Holmes.

“So 2021, 2022. So it’s not what everybody probably wanted, but if it happens it’s a win nonetheless.”

Holmes emphasized the importance of responding to the student and faculty survey, saying that “this is the consultation, if you want a fall reading break.”

“If you don’t want changes to the exam schedule, make sure your opinion is heard. Answer the survey, because this is going to be the consultation to make the decision for … what the academic year is going to look like for the foreseeable future,” he said.

This article was updated to reflect that the survey is meant to consult faculty as well as students.