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Student committee to advocate for fall reading week

The first major steps are underway for the implementation of a fall reading week and a restructuring of the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors. Following the 2018 SSMU Winter Referendum, in which over 96 per cent of electors voted in favour of a fall reading week, conversations have begun at the administrative and student level with the creation of an ad hoc Fall Reading Break Committee and a subcommittee under the Enrolment and Student Affairs Advisory Committee (ESAC).

Among the leaders of the reading week committee is McGill Arts and Science Senator Bryan Buraga, who researched the implementation of a fall reading week last year. He sees more potential in this year’s effort compared to SSMU’s attempts in 2015, which were sparked by a motion endorsing a fall reading week.

“[Campaigning in] 2015 was focused more on administrators and deans as far as I am aware,” Buraga said. “It is different now because there is a new Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning who is open to hearing student concerns, and that is a huge leap from where we were last year.”

According to Fabrice Labeau, McGill’s interim deputy provost of Student Life and Learning, obstacles to a fall reading week encountered during the 2015 discussions still need solutions. Scheduling a fall reading week could mean having to compact the final exam schedule or start the term before Labour Day, which could leave some students having to pay an additional month’s rent.  

“There is the question of when […] we make up for the time during the semester that will be taken up by this fall reading break,” Labeau said. “Some faculties, like Engineering and Medicine, have accreditation requirements that involve a certain number of contact hours. So, whenever you lose a day, you need to add a day to the semester either at the end or before the usual beginning of the semester.”

Buraga intends for the Fall Reading Week Committee to split into two working groups, one of which will lobby and negotiate with McGill administration while the other group collects data and researches the needs of the student body.

“I think it’s going to be important to listen to the needs of all students,” Buraga said. “It’s going to be a balancing act, for sure, because [while] we cannot please everybody, […] we need to get a large majority of students to agree that we are okay with Saturday exams or we are okay with starting earlier before Labour Day or some sort of compromise.”

Buraga remains optimistic about the implementation of a fall reading week at McGill.

“Before the 1990s, there was not a winter reading break,” Buraga said. “It was a student-led initiative to get a winter reading break. With that precedent in mind, it is definitely very possible that we may get [a fall reading week].”

The SSMU Board of Directors could also face major changes within the next couple of years. SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer has taken action to examine the structure of the board and address what he argues are systematic weaknesses. According to Mansdoerfer, the board, which consists of five members at large, three councillors, and four executives, is easily exploited by members with strong political ideologies.

“You have people of similar political ideologies on the board with an intent to express their political ideologies on a board issue,” Mansdoerfer said.

According to Mansdoerfer, an ideal board would see the council representatives and members-at-large replaced by academic representatives from every faculty.

“The [concerns of the] board should be financial, legal, [and] operational and the current structure doesn’t really reflect that,” Mansdoerfer said. “We can have faculty presidents where stakeholders from every single group [will be] on the board deciding the financial operational decisions for McGill students. [….The proposed reforms are] really trying to make sure the board is what it should be, looking [out] for the best interests of students.”

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