Take a fall breather

Courtesy Photo / gvsu.edu
Frederick J. Antczak

Courtesy Photo / gvsu.edu Frederick J. Antczak

Sarah Hillenbrand

Several weeks ago, the Grand Valley State University Academic Senate voted down Student Senate’s resolution to add a fall break to the university calendar.

This decision wasn’t wholly supported by all university administrators, though. Fred Antczak, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, wrote to the faculty members in his college suggesting that they give students an unofficial “fall breather” next year.

In his letter, Antczak proposed that the faculty plan to give no reading assignments or homework for the weekend before the drop deadline, which would most likely be Oct. 18 and 19, he said.

“I am not suggesting that you take any time away from class, nor even that you decrease by an iota the amount of work in the fall course,” Antczak said in his letter. “I’m simply asking you to redistribute it, so that for that weekend across as many courses as possible, there’s no assigned work. I’m asking for a specific weekend because distributing it on different weekends would dilute its effect.”

Ricardo Benavidez, president of Student Senate, said Antczak’s letter was read in the Student Senate meeting, where it was positively received.

“If we could get enough people across the university to do it, it would allow the data the university is looking for,” Benavidez said. “That’s one of the reasons it was voted down, but this would give insight as to how it would work at Grand Valley.”

A fall break would be beneficial to many students, Antczak said, especially since the university is working to improve retention from freshmen to sophomore year, and these students are not accustomed to going so many weeks without a break.

“At a time when we are particularly worried about freshman to sophomore year retention, a break seems even more worth considering,” Antczak said. “…I understand and respect the reasons on the other side. I don’t think any of those problems are unsolvable if we really believed it was in the faculties’ and students’ interest. But trying out a fall breather for a few years may reveal more faculty interest already than the senate vote quite represented.”

Antczak said he hopes faculty will fit the break into their course schedules because the effect would be much greater if many faculty take part in it.

“…unlike an official break, the breather invitation is voluntary, so it depends on how it fits into many different professors’ course plans,” he said. “I know I’d have to overcome a certain conservative reflex if invited to try something that meant tweaking a syllabus with which my past students had success—unless I knew it was in the students’ interest. And the fall breather won’t work for generating much student data if only a few faculty give it a try.”

Benavidez said that something needs to be changed in order to help the students, and Antczak’s solution might be the best one for the time being to gather more data specific to GVSU and its students.

“The worst thing we could do is to not do anything,” Benavidez said. “This solution is not taking any work away, but just redistributing it. Students need that time to recover and catch up, and at this point, the fall breather is the best option that we have right now.”

The Academic Policies and Standards committee of UAS recommended that Student Senate’s resolution not be passed because of the students’ survey results. The committee said several survey questions were biased, noted inconsistencies between survey questions and the senate resolution, and proposed that the addition of a fall break would negatively affect students’ academic success because of where the make-up days would be placed.

“An additional consideration must be recognized if exams are compressed into four days. Many students could have three or four exams scheduled on the same day. This could curtail academic performance and thereby create greater stress,” the APSC wrote in its recommendation to retain the current academic calendar.

Benavidez said Student Senate isn’t looking into the fall break again at this time, because the senators don’t expect UAS to change its decision until more data has been gathered. If the fall breather idea is a success, Benavidez said senate would re-explore a fall break using the data gained.

Meanwhile, Antczak said he still hopes to see a fall break passed in the future.

“I can speak as someone who’s been teaching fall classes, and I think student work would benefit from it,” he said. “I can tell that faculty are worn down in what one this week called ‘the desperate crawl to Thanksgiving.’ With due respect to my senate colleagues, I think an actual break would be worth at least a pilot—but the same respect makes me realize that we aren’t there, at least not yet, so the fall breather is an attempt of enough culture change to allow us to experiment.”

Antczak added that the student interest should be put above all else and that he hopes faculty will give the breather a try in order to enhance the student learning experience.

“While I appreciate the various interests and inertias involved in planning a calendar, I believe in the long run at GVSU, the students’ interest is—and ought to be—the trump interest,” he said. “That’s why the breather is designed eventually to generate some data to support the argument for a break more convincingly. The burden of proof lies on those who want change; here’s a chance to take up that burden.”

[email protected]