Administration considers fall break for reduced stress among students

Ohio universities that offer fall break.

Nicholas Hunter

Of the 14 public universities in Ohio, only four — the University of Akron, Wright State University, Youngstown State University and Kent State University — do not offer some form of mid-semester break during the fall semester.

In February 2017, a proposal was created by the office of Todd Diacon, the senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, to implement a class break during the eighth week of the fall semester, starting this year.

“I believe students would embrace a fall break, not as a vacation, but as a time to just catch a breath, get your projects up to speed, prepare for midterms and all of the things that I think would help you be the best students you can be,” President Beverly Warren said. “I think fall breaks are meant to serve that need, and I think we’ll get there.”

Jessica Becka, a licensed counselor who works at Healing Strides Counseling Services in Kent, said a break like what has been proposed is important for students’ mental health amid a stressful semester.

“When you’re on campus in that setting, it’s just kind of associated with a lot of stress,” Becka said. “Even if you don’t have a lot of papers or projects or exams going on, just that environment (is something) maybe you associate with stress.”

Becka said she often gives students advice to take a break, but many do not have the time for one. A fall break, therefore, can provide the time they need.

“Students (can) have that time to get away, replenish their resources, whether that’s mental, physical, just get more energy, whatever it is, whatever they need,” Becka said.

Despite being approved by the Educational Policies Council, the measure did not get approved by Faculty Senate, and this semester’s academic calendar was created without the addition of a mid-semester break.

Why?

While making a major amendment of this sort would not need Faculty Senate approval for the university administration to implement, the Senate still holds a strong, representative voice, and its concerns with the plan were taken into account.

Primary of those concerns: loss of contact hours.

“I think it’s a good idea, as long as they can do it without gutting the fall semester,” said Donald White, a professor of mathematical science at Kent State.

White teaches calculus for graduate students and worries about losing more days in the already-shorter fall semester in comparison to the spring term.

“In the spring, I have 74 class days, and in the fall, it’ll be either 70 or 71 days,” White said. “If they implemented the break, it would cut it down to 68 days, so we’d be a week shorter in the fall than we are in the spring.”

For White, who teaches a class like calculus that directly uses material from one class to the next, nearly no wiggle room exists to trim the syllabus down by a week’s worth of content.

“Besides our courses, there are lab courses and other things that are one day a week, and if you take away another Thursday, those are hard to make up,” White said. “If you missed one day, that’s an entire week.”

Members of the nursing program also have concerns about the fall break proposed by the administration.

Barbara Broome, the dean of the College of Nursing, said the main concern comes from the time window for nursing clinicals.

“The positive piece of this is that the students will have the opportunity to have a break, and they can renew and come back more energized,” Broome said. “The negative part of it for us is we have clinicals, and we’re mandated by the Board of Nursing to have a certain number of hours.”

Broome said with breaks for Labor Day in September and Thanksgiving break in November, up to five days worth of clinical hours are already lost to break, and a fall break would crunch time for clinicals even more.

The lost days can be minimized if the break moves from the proposed Thursday and Friday window to a Monday and Tuesday. The university proposed a Thursday and Friday fall break after an internal analysis that showed minimal student and faculty contact hours would be lost by missing those days.

“If you’re the person who’s got a Thursday (and) Friday clinical, you’ve got four days you’ve got to make up, or we’ve got to figure out how to make them up,” Broome said. “And it’s not really that easy because we have clinical sites that we go to that just don’t let you in after the period of agreement.”

White and Broome’s concerns are just a part of what complicates adding a fall break to the schedule. The university wants to avoid taking away contact days, which means finding a different place in the academic calendar to subtract from.

Melody Tankersley, the senior associate provost and dean of graduate studies, said the initial proposal took two days out of the schedule without any days added to replace them.

This was met with backlash from the Faculty Senate, and the idea was ditched. Since then, Tankersley has been working on a proposal that will keep contact hours intact while still providing a break.

This process has not been as simple as expected, Tankersley said.

One option would be to start the fall semester two days early, when Welcome Weekend usually kicks off, meaning students will move in earlier and classes will start on Thursday. This would push the student move-in day to Sunday.

“So one thing we can do is take a week off summer and figure that out,” Tankersley said. “The biggest mess there is our online classes. The programs that are fully online are in seven-week modules, so now we would only have 13 weeks in the summer, so you couldn’t get two classes if you did that.”

Another alternative would be to take time from the week-longer spring semester to add days in the fall.

“So, now we’re talking about taking a week off spring so we can add two days in the fall,” Tankersley said. “See how fast it gets crazy?”

Concerns and complications withstanding, the administration is committed to adding a fall break to next year’s academic calendar.

“We will have a fall break, and the president and the provost are in full support of that,” Tankersley said.

Nicholas Hunter is the academic affairs reporter. Contact him at [email protected]