University Council assembled Monday night to discuss the University of Michigan’s academic calendar and Election Day.
The meeting started with a presentation from Sarah Daniels, associate dean of students, Lisa Emery, senior associate registrar, and Christine Gerdes, special counsel to the provost. They spoke about the possibility of starting the 2020-2021 academic year before Labor Day. Without this revision, the last day of the fall semester could be as late as Dec. 24, 2020, creating travel difficulties as students scramble to get home before Christmas.
The conversation then turned to whether it would be better to have a longer Fall Break or a longer Thanksgiving Break. Daniels asked the group about their uses of Fall Break. Public Policy senior Sammi Lawrence, representative for the Ford School of Public Policy, spoke about how especially as a freshman, Fall Break was incredibly important.
“Thinking back to when I was a freshman, that natural break in the middle, where everything is so hectic: starting new classes, new environment, massive school … To have just a couple days was incredibly beneficial,” Lawrence said.
For freshman and upperclassmen alike, Fall Break is vital for students’ mental health. CSG Vice President Nadine Jawad, a Public Policy senior, emphasized this point.
“There is an extra push during those two days for students to take care of themselves,” Jawad said.
Business senior Grace Nasr, representative for the Ross School of Business, and Rackham student Kirstie Hostetter, representative for the School for Environment and Sustainability, also noted the importance of Fall Break from a career standpoint, as both schools utilize those two extra days to find internships and use them as a career check.
Daniels ended the presentation by highlighting the fight to fit everything into the calendar.
“It’s all part of one big puzzle,” Daniels said. “We are not in a place where it’s a kind of ‘We’ll give you this if we get this’ situation. It’s not that give and take per se, it’s kind of all these things are on the table … It’s (seeing) how we can fit the pieces together so that it fits the needs of all constituents.”
The second half of the meeting focused on Election Day, with Law School student Tom Allen, a representative for Promote the Vote. The Fall Break debate was revisited, since it had been previously noted that Election Day should potentially be a day off, instead of one of the two Fall Break days. Allen noted the “pathetically low voter turnout” among the age group composed of college students.
The Council came to the consensus this low turnout was largely due to the three-hour wait at the Michigan Union or other local voting centers, which interferes with classes for students and professors alike.
Allen said students are often put in a situation where they are “deciding between going to class or waiting in line.” Allen further spoke about other reforms to Michigan election laws, which he noted are some of the most restrictive in the country.
“Students, for their first time voting, have to be in person,” Allen said. “This revision would allow anybody to get an absentee ballot for any reason, even if it’s just that you are working all day and don’t have time to get to the polls. It’s all sort of common sense reform … To make it as easy as possible for everyone to vote.