Revised academic calendar lengthens breaks

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The academic calendar will undergo a major facelift that will be effective come fall 2013. Fall break will be extended to two days rather than one, and Thanksgiving break is scheduled to last one week, from Nov. 23 to Dec. 1. Classes will begin on Aug. 26 and end on Dec. 10.

The Faculty Senate approved the changes in November, and the provost will make an official announcement in the upcoming weeks.

As a result, school will begin two days earlier than usual, and will end two days later. Reading days and final exam days will also be affected – after classes end on Dec. 10, Dec. 11 will serve as a reading day. Exams will take place from Dec. 12 to 18.

According to Spanish professor Jane Connolly, both the provost and the chair of the Faculty Senate appointed a calendar committee so that they may examine certain issues that dealt with both the spring and the fall academic calendars.

“There were different aspects that were taken into consideration with regards to the fall break,” said Connolly, who has taught at UM for 27 years and has also served as a chair of the Faculty Senate in the past.

Connolly stated that two huge factors were taken into consideration when making the changes to the academic calendar. First, they examined national practice among colleges throughout the nation, and second, they studied national and local reports documenting student stress.

“After doing a lot of research we saw that most places had more than one day of fall break,” she said. “Some places did two to three days throughout the semester … but it was rare to find a one-day break.”

In addition, the committee differentiated between the purposes of the two breaks, with the help of Student Government President Nawara Alawa, who served as the student representative.

“We first identified that each of the breaks was different in purpose,” said Alawa, who has been the third SG president to serve on the committee since it was first appointed. “Fall break was meant to give students a mental break from the stress of school, while Thanksgiving break is meant to be spent with family.”

The committee began work by advocating that fall break should be longer in order to give students more stress relief.

Counseling Center Director Dr. Ernesto Escoto, who joined the UM community on July 1, 2012, served as a consultant to the committee.

“I was asked to look at the data at the Counseling Center and the role of stress and student academic performance,” he said. “We analyzed our data and were able to see a correlation between the stress levels and when students continue to study without an actual break in between.”

His studies found an increase in the times students visited the Counseling Center during the weeks of fall break and Thanksgiving break for the years of 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.  Data for 2012 was not available when his report was compiled.

According to Dr. Escoto’s report, total office visits to the Counseling Center for the fall semester increased from 1,969 in 2009 to 2,821 in 2011 – a near 43 percent rise.

His report suggested, “rest, along with sleep hygiene and routine, is generally recommended to restore homeostasis. As a result, our bodies’ immune system restores, energy returns and ability to think clearly. This is why it is so important to take a break from work (e.g., lunch, vacation) and school (e.g., fall break and spring break, winter/summer breaks).”

Dr. Escoto hopes students will use the break as a way to restore balance to their lives.

“… I’m really hopeful that students will be able to really use the breaks to relax,” he said. “Sometimes we forget that if we miss our sleep it’ll negatively impact our ability to perform. It’s important that students approach their academic life with balance.”

In order for the changes to the academic calendar to remain, however, Connolly cautioned students.

“Now for the fall break to work, it has to have the understanding among students that this doesn’t mean you get to take Tuesday and Wednesday off, too,” she said. “If that starts happening, this will end.”

Connolly explained that if students start skipping school on the days before fall break, faculty members would then notify their faculty senators, who would issue another survey.

Before the Faculty Senate passed the academic calendar changes, surveys were issued to all faculty members.

According to Connolly, roughly 60 percent of faculty members were in favor of the now official academic calendar changes.

Connolly served on the committee as a faculty representative. Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education William Green chaired the calendar committee. The committee also included representatives from the registrar, student advising and student affairs.

Connolly believes the change will not only benefit students, but faculty members, too.

“All in all I think it will be a good change,” she said. “You do look forward to that little bit of downtime because we need to catch up, too.”

Senior Alawa expressed her happiness for the change in the academic calendar, though she will be unable to enjoy it.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said.

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