Taking a break

GVL / Sara Carte
Grand Valley students walk to class on Oct. 14. The dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is pushing for a Fall breather weekend of no school work.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte Grand Valley students walk to class on Oct. 14. The dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is pushing for a Fall breather weekend of no school work.

Hannah Lentz

For college students in the Midwest, fall is characterized by the changing leaves, trips to the apple orchard and often, illness and fatigue from heavy course loads. From Labor Day to Thanksgiving, students at Grand Valley State University attend classes for 11 and a half weeks without an official break.

Many universities in Michigan allow for a fall break during this time to give students a relief from the stress of school, work and midterms. Frederick Antczak, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences supports this idea, encouraging faculty members to allow for a “fall breather” as there is currently no official fall break for GVSU.

“I invite faculty, as they are laying out their fall 2015 syllabi, to plan to give no reading, no assignments, no homework for the weekend before the drop deadline (Oct. 30), that is Oct. 24 and 25,” Antczak said to faculty in a newsletter.

“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 wrote. “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.”

Last year, a large group of professors participated in the fall breather, limiting homework for students during the allotted time.

“My preference is for a fall break like almost all the other public institutions in the state manage to have. Fall Breather is something I suggested because it doesn’t require formal approval—but then, it has nothing but the force of influence behind it,” Antczak said.

As a longtime supporter of the creation of a fall break, Antczak said the real question about the break is not whether it causes some schedule problems for some number of students, but rather, if a fall break is a good idea for the vast majority of students.

“Student senate has surveyed students and presented some of the ample data out there,” Antczak said. “I just think that at a time when we say we’re concerned about freshman retention, forcing students who’ve never gone 8 or even 7 consecutive weeks to go 11 and a half weeks is unproductive.”

Student senate is also officially in favor of a true fall break, but also supports the Fall Breather as a stepping stone to a fall break in the future, said Maddie Cleghorn, student senate president.

“I have not done extensive research on fall breaks at other universities, but I do know that the University of Michigan was the first to incorporate a fall breather into the academic calendar in 2002, and that nearly all the other public universities in the state followed suit,” Cleghorn said. “U of M’s fall break typically falls in mid-October, and from what I understand, is used for taking a break from courses, catching up, spending time with friends, or whatever students need that extra time for.”

As representatives of the student body, the senate is advocating for this student success-centered initiative because it gives students a small sense of reprieve from their coursework during a key weekend within a long and stressful stretch of classes, Cleghorn said.

“Conveniently, this year’s fall breather falls on homecoming weekend, which will provide an opportunity for students (especially freshmen) to participate in campus events that make Grand Valley feel even more like home,” Cleghorn said.

In order to make this recess a reality, faculty senate needs to recommend some version of the fall break to the provost, and eventually pass it on for approval by the Board of Trustees.

The main objection to the break comes from some science instruction classes that involve lab use and faculty who are in units with internships and co-ops.

“They were concerned at first look, but there are similar units at other institutions that do have a fall break. In several instances, a much more substantive one than a long weekend, and somehow they figure it out,” Antczak said. “Worst case, the students who have such placements are enjoying a privilege, so it might be decided that they should work through break. But to my way of thinking, those numbers doesn’t constitute a reason to deprive the vast majority of other students, including freshmen who almost never are in a position to benefit from internships.”

For more information on the Fall Breather and fall break plans visit www.www.gvsu.edu/studentsenate.