Fall Break at Willamette will be shortened from the full week of Thanksgiving to only Wednesday through Sunday off, according to the 2023-2024 academic calendar. Willamette made the switch to a week-long break around eight years ago, so why go back to the reduced amount of time off?
A full week Fall Break came about thanks to the voices of students and the advocacy of Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) President Andrés Oswill. Oswill was the 2014-2015 ASWU President after being elected to the position at the end of his junior year, and he began talking to fellow Willamette students about what was important to them. A popular sentiment was the high expense of flying back home for Thanksgiving, due to it being peak airline time, he said.
“As far as I remember, [Fall Break] had never been a full week. I think the reasoning was Willamette used to be a school that was really regional, and so the students would be pulled largely from in state. And so it was easy for folks to just go back home for the weekend. By the time I went there, I think the largest block of students came from California. As the school shifted, having just that weekend off didn't make as much sense for folks,” Oswill explained.
As someone who is from California myself, I agree that many students will resonate with the sentiment of a full week off making travel plans significantly easier.
Attempting to extend the length of Fall Break had been tried several times in the past, but after many meetings, the change was made. Oswill had conversations with administration, including President Thorsett, and presented students’ concerns. “It was a lot of work to get the lay of the land and figure out what needed to happen, what didn't work and what could work,” Oswill said.
Despite the eventual success, early reactions to the change were skeptical and hesitant.
“Anytime you suggest something new or different, sometimes [the reaction] comes from a place of, ‘I think that's a bad idea,’ but a lot of times it comes from a place of, ‘Who knows what would happen if we did that, and it could open this whole can of worms.’ … But as I chipped away at each person and was like, ‘What are you actually worried about?’ and, ‘How can we address those concerns?’ They eventually all came around to, ‘Why not?’” Oswill said.
Although the upcoming change in Fall Break is sudden, it is not random. Assistant Provost of Academic Planning and Accreditation, Christine Shanaberger, provided insight into how and why the change had to be made. In 2018, the altering of Fall Break was attempted due to the push for the calendars of all the colleges within the university to be aligned. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everybody was forced to scramble, Shanaberger explained.
However, after things settled down, the process to revert back to a shorter Fall Break resumed. Shanaberger broke down the different areas the committee—made up of representatives from all of the University's colleges and schools as well as the registrar's office, along with colleagues in admissions, financial aid, athletics, student affairs and housing—had to take into consideration.
“As part of the process, we looked at all of the curricular requirements for each of the colleges. … I think the one thing that might be most important for students to understand is that the students that are in the business program in the undergraduate level are bound by the same number of classes and the rules that all the other programs have because of their accreditors. So originally, we were like maybe we can have a week of Fall Break for CAS, and then those students come just for those meetings, but that actually is in violation of federal financial aid law,” Shanaberger said.
The overall message from the administration appears to be that compromises were required for each of the colleges. However, although the decision has been fully backed by administration, it appears that no student input was taken into consideration, which is exactly why Oswill had pushed for the longer break back in 2015.
“Our goal was to ensure that we met all of the requirements necessary to deliver our curriculum while helping students take advantage of the University's full range of academic programs. We hope that these changes will make it easier for students to take classes across the University,” Shanaberger explained.
But how will this change impact students and professors?
“We've already heard from some professors that are concerned. … I think there's probably always going to be people that are frustrated with something. … But I think we did the best we could with the parameters that we had. And we're going to give it a try and see how it goes, and hopefully it works for everyone,” Shanaberger said.
However, this may not be the case. Seira Ramchandani (‘26), from Kobe, Japan, has a strong dislike for this change to the calendar, as she has already made plans for next semester’s Fall Break. “My older sister is studying at University of Hawaii, and so I was gonna see her for the week,” she said. She added that she does plan to skip class on Monday and Tuesday for this reason.
For students that have no other option than to fly home, a shortened fall break could mean that they will miss out on seeing their families in the fall. It can be expected that the number of students staying on campus over Fall Break will rise due to the inability to form such inconvenient travel plans.
Assistant Professor of Management, Colin Birkhead, is nervous that students are going to make travel plans thinking they’ll have the full week off, leading to attendance on Monday and Tuesday being pretty slim, he said. “If there is a class scheduled, I expect students to show up. But I anticipate that many students will not, even though the expectation is that if we have class, everybody should be there. I’m anticipating attendance being much lower on those days,” Birkhead explained.
Despite concerns about students showing up to classes, Birkhead was not too bothered in regards to how it will affect his own schedule. “My Fall Break plans for a long time now have just been that I take Thursday and Friday off and then other than that, I just work. So even if we had an official break for the entire week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they’re still work days in my book,” he explained.
Birkhead did express that he understands the importance of the schedules of all the different campuses across the Willamette community being synced up together, but that shortening Fall Break does not seem to be the best way of doing that.
Although aligning the schedules is top priority for the university, it seems unfair to students who do not live nearby to cut short Fall Break. The possible increased cost for traveling so close to the holiday, the significantly less time at home and other possible consequences for students is unjust, and may force some to spend the time alone on campus. As more students find out about the shortened break, there may be an increased amount of backlash, especially since they were not given the opportunity to voice their opinions or concerns at all during the decision-making process.