Fall Break Referendum Information

Hey everyone! As the Fall Break Referendum on 3-4 October nears, I wanted to give some information on facts regarding the referendum, Orientation, and the Fall Reading Break that will help you inform your decision. For those who want a tl;dr of sorts, read the bolded sentences at the top of each paragraph.

2016 introduced a three-year pilot study of two Fall Reading days which ends this year. Prior to 2016, the Thanksgiving weekend was a 3-day weekend, with classes resuming on Tuesday. In 2016 the University introduced the pilot Fall Reading days around Thanksgiving weekend. This was based on the results of a 2014 Feds referendum, where almost 75 percent of students voted for a Fall Reading Break. This also introduced classes during Orientation on Thursday and Friday, which previously was a week-long event with classes beginning the following week. In effect, this gave students a 5-day weekend in mid-October and reduced what was previously a week-long Orientation event. The University promised to reassess the situation after three years to decide if the pilot program should be made permanent.

The University of Waterloo conducted an information period regarding Fall Reading Break where they gathered feedback from students. This consisted of several information booths during the first half of the year that were dispersed in various locations and dates on campus. This was to get a distributed sample size of student feedback with minimal bias regarding participation. They asked students to fill out a simple, 3-minute questionnaire for a treat, that asked if the student liked the inclusion of Fall Reading days, and if they would be okay with a full Fall Reading week.

Every Ontario university currently has some form of Fall Reading days. This push has been made in the last 10-15 years with growing concerns of Mental Health for students. The theory is that “Students are encouraged to use these days to prepare for upcoming midterms, catch up on readings and assignments, or take time for personal wellness (e.g. catch up on sleep, exercise) to prepare for the rest of the term.” Some universities have a full week, such as Brock University, which specifically chose the week during which the most suicides have historically occurred. Others have just one extra day, such as University of Guelph, and others have similar forms that do not necessarily overlap with Thanksgiving, such as University of Ottawa in late October.

The Fall Break Referendum has equal representation for Orientation and Fall Reading Break. This was changed quite recently, you can see why here. The first question asks you to rank options on shortening, maintaining, or extending the length of the Fall Reading Break. The second question asks you to rank options on shortening, maintaining, or extending the length of Orientation, and the third questions asks you to rank the priority of your opinion between the two. For example, you may feel that both Orientation and the Fall Reading Break should be extended, but the third question will ask you to choose which one you would rather have extended. Each question has a No Opinion/Decline option. Please see the election page for the exact wording.

Orientation and Fall Reading Break are not controlled by the same body. Specifically the SSO Office and Feds are in charge of Orientation, while the University of Waterloo administration is in charge of the Fall Reading Break. This referendum will bind Feds representatives to advocate on behalf of the results, similar to how EngSoc representatives are bound by EngSoc’s Document of Stances. This does not mean that the University is forced to abide by their requests. As explained by the VP Education of Feds, “it’s important to note that while this referendum will let us at Feds know how to advocate to the University, it doesn’t guarantee an outcome: the ultimate decisions sit with the University. So why bother having a referendum at all? Because it’s one of the best tools we have to gather input from you, the student body, to tell us what we should be advocating for on your behalf.”

The University of Waterloo has not found a way to organize both a week-long Orientation and a full Fall Reading Week into a Fall term schedule. While the two subject matters aren’t necessarily tied to each other, the strict term schedule due to our three-term system forces a compromise. The currently proposed 2019-2020 undergraduate calendar being voted for approval on 9 October has a full Fall Reading Week, beginning Orientation one day earlier as well as adding a Sunday exam slot. The starting day for classes is 4 September, and the last possible exam day is 21 December. The term can start as early as 3 September and end as late as 23 December, dependent on when Labour Day is. Starting classes before Labour Day is not an option that has been determined to be feasible at this time.

The removal of Fall Reading days does not inherently mean the extension of Orientation. As stated previously, the adjustments of Orientation and Fall Reading Week are not directly connected. It is possible that the University could remove Fall Reading Break and keep Orientation to 3 days. One of the outcomes in the “Eliminate Fall Break” option is that “fall term classes would begin the second Monday of September following Orientation. There will no longer be class days during the first week of September”, and this is what Feds would advocate for if it was picked.

Make an informed vote on 3-4 October for the Fall Break Referendum and spread the knowledge. I hope this information helps inform your vote. This will most likely be the last time you will get to vote on this topic, as another three-year trial means that most students will be graduated by the time it ends. Make sure to advocate to your friends and classmates to make an informed decision, as this referendum will have lasting consequences regardless of outcome, and more votes means the results have more weight as they are more representative of the student population. You will be able to vote on this referendum at vote.feds.ca from 3-4 October. Remember the context of this vote: Feds will advocate based on these results, but the University is not forced to comply.


Other Recommended Reading Material:

Footnote: The University of Waterloo paper was the only research data I could find regarding Fall Reading days’ impact on Ontario universities. If you know of more, please send it my way.

EDIT: Changed Queen’s University to Brock University, mixed the two up accidentally.

EDIT 2: Changed wording from “has equal impact on” to “has equal representation for” and added “on 3-4 October” to the second sentence. Also removed the paragraph about the UW Fall Break research data due to its main relevance being for Engineering students and the focus of this post to aid students University-wide. It is now linked in the Other Recommended Reading Material section.