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2012-2013 Annual Report

C-2 University Academic Calendar Committee

Summary

In 2012-13, the University Academic Calendar Committee finalized and put forward to Faculty Council legislation for a two-day fall break to occur in the ninth week of the semester (mid-October). The legislation passed by a vote of 29-23 in the Faculty Council meeting of January 2013. Because the legislation was major legislation, it required a no-protest vote of the general faculty, which went out by email in February 2013. Had the general faculty lodged twenty-five or more protest votes, amounting to 1 percent or more of the general faculty, a meeting of the general faculty to vote on the issue would have been required. The Office of the Faculty Council received 59 votes, representing 2.5 percent of the general faculty, which led to a general faculty meeting in March 2013. At that meeting, the legislation failed by a vote of 58 against, 27 for.

Background
The fall break idea arose from an undergraduate student government resolution passed in February 2012, and a graduate student resolution passed in April 2012. The students favored a break that would provide them with an opportunity to rest mentally, physically, and emotionally in the middle of the fall semester, similar to the opportunity they have in the middle of the spring semester. They argued that the break would be particularly beneficial for freshmen adjusting to the workload and pace of college, and that a break might bolster freshman retention rates and decrease demand on student mental health counseling services.

Meeting in fall 2012, the committee began by considering what type of break to propose. Two options seemed most viable given the constraints of the academic calendar as spelled out in the Principles for the Development of the Academic Calendar, particularly the constraint of 70 days of instruction and the constraint on when the last day of the semester can occur. Those two options were a one-day break the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and a two-day break in mid-October. Only the latter would address the students’ desires for a break in the middle of the semester; for this reason, the committee chose it, and specified the break for the Monday and Tuesday of the ninth week of the semester, which would typically be the third week of October, generally falling one or two weeks after the OU game.

Achieving a two-break in October meant pushing the start of the semester forward by two days to maintain 70 days of instruction, there being no readily attained slack at the end of the calendar. We knew from checking with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which controls the Common Calendar, that starting two days earlier was fine; no waiver was needed. We knew from having checked with the Division of Housing and Food Service that the dorms would be available for students if we began the semester two days early. In short, we knew the break was feasible according to the two main constraints we could envision, but we were unsure about other possible constraints and what problems such a break might pose. From contacting 38 stakeholders in the spring of 2012, we knew the primary objections to a fall break in general, but we did not know the objections to a break with this specific timing.

To determine what problems might arise with a two-day break in the ninth week, the committee returned to the 38 stakeholders it had contacted in late spring 2012 to ask now about the advantages and disadvantages of a break in the ninth week. We received quite a bit of feedback, which we summarized and included in our legislative proposal. Please see Appendices A, B, and C, which contain the proposal and related materials that we submitted to the Faculty Council.

In December 2012, committee chair Diane Bailey presented the proposal to the Faculty Council and entertained questions. The discussion centered on the problems with labs in the natural sciences and engineering. Although the proposal provided a fall schedule with 12 whole weeks, the first whole week was also the first week of class, which instructors of lab courses deemed unsuitable for labs (TAs were not yet trained, students were likely to add in late and miss a lab). By their reasoning, the schedule provided only 11 usable whole weeks for labs, whereas the existing schedule provides 12 such weeks. In January 2013, Bailey again appeared before the Faculty Council, where the discussion continued, again with a focus on labs, until a vote was held. The vote was 29-23 in favor of the fall break proposal.

Upon learning that a General Faculty meeting would occur, the committee determined to gather more information to address some concerns that came up in the Faculty Council meetings. In particular, Faculty Council representatives had been keen to hear data from schools with fall breaks to learn if the breaks did in fact help with such matters as freshmen retention rates and mental health counseling services. We contacted 11 universities with fall breaks, but none had such data. As the table in Appendix D displays, these universities did, however, provide other useful information.

In presenting the passed legislation at the general faculty meeting, Bailey referred to some of the information collected from universities with fall breaks; she also discussed other information that our committee had gained from UT Austin stakeholders. After a period of questions and answers, President Powers, who presided over the meeting, called for the vote, at which point Bailey called for a quorum. By Faculty Council rules, this quorum call came too late; the vote was held, with 58 votes against the measure and 27 for it.

The committee voted for Bailey to continue as chair for the 2013-14 academic year. In the wake of the General Faculty meeting and an ensuing discussion with the chair of the Faculty Council and the Faculty Council Executive Committee about the rules governing General Faculty meetings and the timing of quorum calls, Bailey resigned from this committee. We end the year with no chair.

Diane Bailey, chair