John Howe, President
September 15, 2005
President Jon Whitmore
Texas Tech University
Dear President Whitmore,
As you know, over the last two years the desire of students (and of some faculty members) for a fall break has led to various proposals. At the May 11 meeting of the Faculty Senate, we were presented with the latest student draft. Since faculty members had not had time to deliberate on it, it was moved that the revised Student Government proposal for a fall break “be posted upon the Faculty Senate Web site, that the faculty at large be notified that it is there, that all senators be urged to solicit input from their constituents, and that this proposal be discussed and voted upon at the earliest possible time in the fall semester when the Senate reconvenes.” The Faculty Senate did post the proposal and other fall break documents, drawing attention to the Web site through Tech Announce and through individual email and hard copy letters to each member of our constituency. We took up the matter again yesterday, at our first meeting of this academic year.
The Senate Agenda Committee concluded that a straight up or down vote on the student proposal of last May could potentially be misleading inasmuch as the exact language of that proposal was crafted with an eye toward implementing fall break this fall, which obviously we are not doing, and the request was supported with survey data whose methodology was questioned by some faculty senators. Therefore a vote was taken not on the proposal itself but on its major thrust, which was summarized as “a request for a mid October, Thursday/Friday fall holiday, to be established in order to break up what is the longest uninterrupted stretch of classes in the academic year. At the end of the semester the lost days would be made up by advancing final examinations two days (so that they would be held Monday through Friday prior to graduation, with the preceding weekend serving in lieu of “Dead Day”).”
Motion I: It is moved that he Faculty Senate endorses the general thrust and intent of the Student Senate’s May 2005 “Proposal for a Fall Break,” although recognizing that some refinement in detail is desirable.
Discussion centered on the formal reactions (largely hostile) of many laboratory sciences and theatre. The motion failed by a count of 16 to 27.
Motion II: It is moved that the Faculty Senate endorses a one day fall break, to be held on a Friday in mid October, and the advancing of fall final examinations by two days.
Although this proposal was generally approved by the laboratory sciences (geosciences excepted), it was fiercely opposed by the theatre representatives. My personal impression is that it encountered opposition both from those who thought it was too much and from those who thought it was too little. The motion failed by a count of 14 to 28.
Motion III: It is moved that the Faculty Senate endorses a two day fall break to be held on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, to be compensated for by advancing the fall final examinations two days.
No unit claimed that a break of this type would disrupt its academic mission. Some faculty members apparently consider the first two days of Thanksgiving week to be problematic in terms of class attendance and useless for laboratory work; some welcome not only the opportunity for an extensive break but also the delay of finals that puts more space between the end of Thanksgiving break and the end of instruction. The motion passed by a count of 30 to 16.
Motion IV: The Faculty Senate requests that a Senate committee be charged with examining the possibility of starting fall semester classes earlier (by two days? or even by one week?) and using some or all of the days of instruction gained to allow a two day mid October fall break.
Some of the laboratory science senators and some of the written responses were enthusiastic about the potential academic benefits of starting earlier and gaining more days of instruction. But the majority of senators apparently do not welcome adding additional work days to their “nine month” contracts. Some senators anticipated budgetary problems, or at least the necessity of complex budgetary maneuvers, in order to finance September 1 hires. The motion failed by a count of 9 to 35.
Motion V: The Faculty Senate requests that Senate Committee A be charged with modifying the Student Senate’s May 2005 “Proposal for a Fall Break” so that it will do the least possible harm to existing academic programs; that the Committee on Committees recommend additional members for Committee A so that the constituencies most directly affected by a fall break proposal will be directly represented; and that the modified Committee A offer a finished report to the full Senate, prior to the end of this fall semester, on how a fall break might best be established.
This motion basically urges further study by the Faculty Senate. Although some senators were sympathetic to the idea that the interested parties should get together and continue to attempt to hammer out a solution, there seemed to be considerable skepticism that the Faculty Senate was the proper venue. If students, staff, and other parties were to be brought into the discussion, then such a committee might more properly be assembled by some overarching authority rather than by the faculty’s representative body. The motion failed by a count of 7 to 39.
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My personal evaluation is that the Faculty Senate has gone as far as it can with this issue, or at least as far as it wants to. Most senators probably do not mind fall break as an abstract proposition (those who have experienced it directly or indirectly are more likely to favor it, while those who have not are more likely to think it involves unnecessary trouble and coddling of students). But senators do want to protect academic quality, and even though the majority of senators teach in programs where the exchange of days of instruction proposed by the students would not have any detrimental effects, they still do not want to “sell out” their colleagues who claim that a mid October fall break would hurt what they do.
The Senate has voted three times on the matter of a full week break at Thanksgiving. The first time the motion had little support, the second time it almost passed, now on this third vote senators are nearly two to one in favor. Perhaps some support comes from a desire not to be completely obstructionist, which results in some senators voting for what they see as the least disruptive and least obnoxious alternative. However, the senators have taken an increasingly careful look at the academic calendar and many apparently have concluded that this might be a superior arrangement (it is the solution adopted by Iowa State).
The problem with the fall break proposal for a week off at Thanksgiving is that it is emphatically not what the student leaders want. They have crafted their proposal with the aim of providing an oasis in the academic Sahara between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, and this proposal does not do that. It might be observed, however, that while the student government leaders have rejected a Thanksgiving week break as a solution, the students themselves have never been polled. When the students were surveyed (with a methodology that might be criticized), the student leaders made a conscious decision not to present them with the Thanksgiving week alternative, apparently presuming that it would muddy the waters too much. No one actually knows whether or not students in general would find a Thanksgiving week break an attractive option, perhaps even a more attractive, flexible, longer, and cheaper option than the mid-October break that the student leaders have proposed.
The Faculty Senate exists to advise the President. If this mission is construed to mean providing neat solutions to problems, then we have failed here: we ourselves are far from unanimous about what should be done; we have not identified a solution by which the administration can make everyone happy. On the other hand, if our mission is to represent the opinion (in this case the opinions) of the faculty, then we probably have succeeded to some extent.
Wishing you good luck with this,
Copy to Vice Provost James Brink
Copy to Student President Nathan Nash