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Tribune Explains: All things Fall Reading Week

While most Canadian universities have a week-long break in both the fall and winter semesters, McGill only has a reading week in the winter, usually held during the first week of March. Recent student activism has prompted talks regarding the implementation of a Fall Reading Week by the McGill Senate, the university governance body responsible for academic issues. To help understand the progress toward a Fall Reading Week, The McGill Tribune spoke with Gillian Nycum, university registrar and executive director of Enrolment Services, to answer some frequently asked questions.

The history of student advocacy for a Fall Reading Week

McGill students have shown a long-standing desire for a Fall Reading Week, citing the importance of taking time for themselves to focus on their mental health. True student advocacy in favour of a Fall Reading Week only emerged in 2018. A collective increased focus on mental health has fueled student advocacy resulting in the Winter 2018 referendum, where 96.6 per cent of undergraduate students who voted supported a Fall Reading Week. Following this referendum, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) formed an Ad-Hoc Fall Reading Break Committee, which met regularly between November 2018 and March 2019 under SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer to weigh options concerning the instigation and logistics of a Fall Reading Week potentially to happen during the Fall 2020 semester.  

Administration’s progress in implementing a Fall Reading Week

Many conflicts surround implementing a Fall Reading Week, so, the McGill Senate Committee and the Enrolment and Student Affairs Advisory Committee (ESAAC) have formed a subcommittee, called the Sub Committee on Fall Reading Week (SFRB) to discuss how to avert scheduling issues in the academic calendar and to evaluate different scenarios in which Fall Reading Week exists, including starting the semester in August or scheduling classes before 8:30am. The SFRB has made recommendations in order to facilitate a smoother transition in the coming years. 

SFRB includes representatives from Enrolment Services, the University Registrar SSMU, Faculties of Medicine, Engineering, and Science, Post-Graduate Students Society (PGSS), and Macdonald Campus Students Society (MCSS). 

Executives from the SFRB remain optimistic, stating on April 9, 2019 that a Fall Reading Week seems feasible. Nycum explained that a Fall Reading Week is possible.

“Further consultation with stakeholders is required to ensure proper implementation,” Nycum said. “The Committee conducted these consultations from October 2019 to January 2020.” 

The Committee is considering two recommendations: Adding extra time to classes, and beginning the fall semester at an earlier date. Of these options, the student body is in favour of beginning the fall semester earlier: In a survey conducted by SSMU, results show that 87 per cent of students are willing to start the fall semester before Labour Day if it ensures a Fall Reading Week. Current debate within the administration is surrounding the possible effects on summer studies and internships. 

Proposed dates for a Fall Reading Week 

While discussions are still taking place, SSMU seems dedicated to continuing advocacy for a Fall Reading Week to be added onto the October 12-16 Canadian Thanksgiving weekend as noted in a SFRB Consultation Document. Currently, executives remain hopeful that a Fall Reading Week is foreseeable for Fall 2020. In a proposed calendar for the 2020-2021 academic year approved by the Senate, Fall Reading Week has no specific dates attached.

When asked about the timeline for communication to students, Nycum said that students will be updated this semester.

“The SFRB will aim to report to ESAAC again this term,” Nycum said. “From there, any recommendations would need to be approved by [the] Senate.”

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