Fall break proposal moves up for faculty approval

GVL / Matt Read
GVSU Student Senate on Thursday September 14, 2017.

GVL / Matt Read GVSU Student Senate on Thursday September 14, 2017.

Anne Marie Smit

Last Thursday, Nov. 2, the Grand Valley State University student senate voted in favor of a fall break proposal, which was presented to the University Academic Senate Executive Board Friday, Nov. 3. Jonathan Bowman, president of student senate, is currently in discussion with faculty and administration on the proposed calendar changes. 

Bowman wants to assure GVSU students that he is serious about making a fall break a reality. 

“This has been something student senate has been talking about for four or five years,” he said. “Something that I’m really going to push for is some action. It’s been talked about for a long time, but let’s stop talking and start acting.”

While student senate and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) sponsor a fall breather for a weekend in October, Bowman said it wasn’t very successful because students were still assigned homework during that period. 

“Originally, the fall breather is something we talked about when we were encouraging different (GVSU) colleges not to assign homework because we thought that might be easier to accomplish than getting a day off school,” Bowman said. “We found that most students were still getting assigned work, so that wasn’t very effective.”

Dan Ziegenfelder, vice president of student senate, pointed out that instituting a fall break on campus is not solely about giving students a break from their schoolwork but is also about giving them more time to finish assignments and assess how the semester is going. 

“I think it’s a good time to evaluate how things are,” Ziegenfelder said. “The idea of the fall break is to use that time catching up on things, spending that time on assignments. Other universities have something similar to that, and the whole idea is to help students with their grades and mental health.”

Ziegenfelder said GVSU looks far ahead when making the calendars. Because of that, many events are already scheduled for next fall, and changing the calendar so suddenly would be disruptive. Plus, it wouldn’t give professors much time to change their curriculum.  

“I’m for a fall break, but I’m not for implementing it next year when so much groundwork has already been put in for next year,” he said. “I think it’s making students aware that it’s not something that can easily be changed. It’s going to take a little bit of time. With careful consideration, I think we can really make it happen, especially if instructors have enough time to rework their course schedule to go around this fall break.”

Felix Ngassa, professor of chemistry and chair of the University Academic Senate (UAC), said many faculty members are wondering how the break might affect their curriculum, with lab courses and clinicals especially affected.

“I think the sentiment from faculty, from different departments and different programs, is that there are some restrictions as far as clinical hours, lab time and other things,” Ngassa said. “It’s just a matter of making it fit the whole scheme of things, and every program should be able to deal with it without causing a huge heap of problems.”

Ngassa thinks presenting a variety of proposals to faculty and administration would be favorable because it would allow them to decide which proposal they think would be the best fit for their department and the university as a whole. 

“An issue we had on Friday (Nov. 3) was (that) people couldn’t lean one way or the other,” Ngassa said. “They don’t have enough on the table to look at, that this isn’t a plan they can vote on. Many people on the fence say, ‘I don’t have enough information.’ My key is, do your research, have a good plan and have options for people to look at.”

With that said, Ngassa thinks a fall break would be beneficial to retaining student enrollment at GVSU. With that time off, even just a few days, students could return to their classes feeling refreshed.

“We want students to be healthy,” Ngassa said. “Faculty will use that time, too. The way I look at it is the difference between a power nap and a good overnight rest. An overnight rest is like spring break. You’re well-rested. But sometimes we take a nice power nap and are refreshed and ready to go.”