The Faculty Senate voted 40-8 Thursday to approve a resolution that would give students Indigenous Peoples’ Day (recognized on the second Monday of October) and the following Tuesday off in future academic calendars.
The resolution would also cancel classes held on Juneteenth, start the fall semester one week early some years to make sure exams don’t extend past Dec. 20, shift dates for the winter sessions and end the spring semester one week early to eliminate the overlap between commencement and exams and maintain the length of summer break.
UB President Satish Tripathi will have to approve the resolution before it can go into effect. John Della Contrada, a university spokesperson, said that Tripathi “looks forward to receiving the resolution,” but didn’t specify whether the president would sign it.
Neither Tripathi nor Provost A. Scott Weber were present for the vote. But Weber voiced support for the resolution after the Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee unanimously approved a draft calendar in mid-October, telling The Spectrum in a statement that the proposal represented “an appropriate balance of the many needs across the campus.”
“The changes we propose are minimal in practice and based on student and faculty feedback,” the resolution’s preamble reads. “The proposed dates are chosen to preserve appropriate breaks between semesters in recognition of the importance of faculty and student research work and life balance. We believe these changes are necessary to meet the university’s mission.”
The university community appeared to be supportive of the addition of a fall break. The resolution enjoyed “substantial” support in three feedback sessions with faculty and one with students conducted in September, according to a presentation made by Sen. Joanne McLaughlin, one of the resolution’s main proponents. Two surveys of students with over 400 collective respondents found that more than 80% of students supported the resolution, UB Council Student Representative A.J. Franklin said in the meeting. (Franklin is also an assistant features editor for The Spectrum.)
The Graduate Student Association e-board, the undergraduate Student Association e-board and Resident Hall Association President Brennan Gorman also submitted letters of support to the senate.
The proposal was not without its detractors. Sen. Julie Bowker, a psychology professor, told the senate that while her department was supportive of recognizing Juneteenth and starting the spring semester earlier, they had reservations about instituting a fall break.
“There is no empirical evidence suggesting that a fall break can be helpful for students’ mental health,” Bowker said. “I know everyone feels like they want this fall break, but there have been a couple of universities in which students requested it, they added that fall break, and then they did tests of this. And the evidence either didn’t support that it led to reductions in student distress, or it showed that it actually increased student distress.”
Director of Counseling Services Sharon Mitchell and Health Promotion Director Marla McBride both supported the addition of a fall break in letters to the Faculty Senate.
“A fall semester break is an excellent way to promote the well-being of our University at Buffalo students,” Mitchell wrote in her letter. “Studies have shown that chronic stress can lead to both physical and mental fatigue, and neither is conducive to the success of our students, academically or in other areas of their lives.”
The Senate spent the majority of the meeting discussing four amendments, all of which were ultimately rejected. Sen. Lara Hutson proposed three of those. The first would’ve added a one-day break the Friday before Indigenous Peoples’ Day and started the fall semester a day early on a Friday. The second would’ve given students the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving off instead of two days around Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And the third would’ve cut a provision from the original proposal that the fall semester start early in some years, pushing the last day of finals to Dec. 23 at the latest. Sen. Grady Gambrel proposed an amendment that would only give students, faculty and staff Juneteenth and the Fourth of July off when those holidays fell on a weekday.
The vote comes after over a year of debate on adopting a fall break. The Faculty Senate Executive Committee first discussed a fall break in October of 2021, which resulted in a “good and robust discussion,” according to meeting minutes. The proposal passed by the senate was first presented to the Executive Committee at its first meeting in early September.
The Faculty Senate first voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day during the fall 2021 semester but did not vote to give students the day off from classes.
Grant Ashley is the managing editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Grant Ashley is the editor in chief of The Spectrum. He's also reported for WBFO, WIVB and The Buffalo News. He enjoys taking long bike rides, baking with his parents’ ingredients and recreating Bob Ross paintings in crayon. He can be found on the platform formerly known as Twitter at @Grantrashley.