The Faculty Senate Executive Committee voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a resolution that would add a two-day fall break during the weekend of Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the 2023-24 academic year.
The resolution, proposed by the Academic Policies and Grading Committee, would also observe Juneteenth as a university holiday, make sure commencement weekend doesn’t overlap with spring final exams and adjust the start dates of the fall, spring and winter semesters.
The resolution will be discussed by the full Faculty Senate at their Nov. 15 meeting. A final decision will be made on Dec. 15 during a special meeting of the senate.
Tuesday’s unanimous vote was the culmination of over a year of debate regarding a fall break. The Faculty Senate Executive Committee held a “good and robust discussion” about whether to cancel classes in observation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day last October, according to meeting minutes. The measure was voted down, according to Joanne Song McLaughlin, chair of the Academic Policies and Grading Committee.
McLaughlin, who presented to the Executive in favor of adding a fall break Tuesday, also worked to propose a temporary fall break last semester. Last fall’s proposal would’ve added a two-day break to the academic calendar and extended the fall 2022 semester through Dec. 22, which some faculty felt was too late.
“Some professors were objecting to it being too late to try, but that’s why it was temporary,” McLaughlin said in an interview with The Spectrum. “This new proposal starts the fall semester early [for some upcoming years], so that the last day of classes does not go beyond Dec. 20.”
Several faculty members raised questions about the potential loss of class time in the shortened fall and winter sessions.
McLaughlin acknowledged their point but argued that the benefits — including a longer summer for students pursuing internships or experiential learning experiences, the recognition of the university’s diversity during Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Juneteenth, and breaks that would better overlap with those at K-12 schools, making childcare easier for faculty — outweighed the drawbacks.
“Whenever we make any changes, there are some people for whom it’ll have a negative impact and for others, it will have a positive impact,” McLaughlin said. “Our job is to propose a calendar that works for the majority of people. The main idea behind this proposal should be student success and research activities for faculty and PhDs.”
The Academic Policies and Grading Committee also found that most of UB’s peer institutions and other members of the Association of American Universities had already instituted fall breaks.
“The work that has been done is a perfect example of how a Senate committee functions. They were presented with some requests and some ideas that had to be addressed by doing a tremendous amount of work,” Senate Chair Frederick Stoss said. “This went through the entire process of going from issues that were raised to a committee that did some great work — to the point where we have voted in favor at the faculty committee.”
The proposal also garnered support from Provost A. Scott Weber, who was present for the vote.
“I fully support the Academic Policy and Grading Committee’s proposal to amend UB’s academic calendar to include a two-day fall break,” Weber said in a statement. “While no calendar is perfect, I believe the proposal in front of the faculty senate represents an appropriate balance of the many needs across the campus.”
The 2022 fall academic calendar contains only four days off: Sept. 5 for Labor Day and Nov. 23-25 for Thanksgiving.
The Faculty Senate first voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which falls on the second Monday of October, during the fall 2021 semester.
The holiday was first recognized in 1992 as a counter to the concurrent federal holiday of Columbus Day. The holiday’s namesake, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, has been criticized for his practices of waging war on and enslaving Indigenous populations in the Caribbean.
Grant Ashley contributed reporting to this story.
Ria Gupta is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ria Gupta is an assistant news/features editor at The Spectrum.