York to revamp fall term with new reading week

York University, in response to recommendations put forward by the Senate Committee on Curriculum & Academic Standards and passed by Senate on Oct. 23, will implement reforms to the fall term that will create a new reading week and a 12-week term. Accommodating this innovation requires ending the long-standing University practice of not scheduling classes on the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Senate first approved the practice in 1971, sparked by a request from the Jewish Students Federation, and institutionalized it across the University in 1974.

Beginning in September 2009, the University will implement a new 12-week teaching term. Classes, examinations and tests will not be held on the weekend preceding and the week following the Thanksgiving holiday in October and the new Family Day holiday in February. The four days, coupled with the public holidays, will now be designated as fall and winter reading weeks. The University will also discontinue its practice of not scheduling winter term exams on the first and last two days of the Jewish Passover observance in early spring.

The University’s policies and guidelines on religious accommodation, which allow students to reschedule examinations and other academic obligations due to religious commitments, remain in effect.

In addition to the sessional date changes, the University has also made provisions to possibly change the start dates of the fall and winter terms. Traditionally, York started classes the day after Labour Day in the fall term and the day following New Year’s Day in the winter term. Classes may, in the future, begin later if a 12-week teaching term and appropriate examination schedule is maintained.

The changes were made in response to a comprehensive review of the Senate Policy on Sessional Dates and the Scheduling of Examinations by the Senate’s Committee on Curriculum & Academic Standards (CCAS) in conjunction with the Office of the Registrar. The review considered a number of major developments since 1996 that have had a significant impact on the policy and design structure of the academic term.

Key among the developments influencing this change include the dramatic growth in undergraduate enrolment (from 33,990 in 1996 to 46,233 students in 2006), the younger age of students entering the University following the elimination of Grade 13, and the changing demographic characteristics of York’s student body, which is described as the most multicultural in Canada. A fall reading week will afford opportunities for young students to adjust to university studies and activities.

Also informing the recommendation is the overall increase in the number of courses offered, particularly the significant increase in single term, fall or winter, courses as opposed to full year courses. The total number of all courses increased by 28 per cent from 1996 to 2007, while single-term courses increased by 42 per cent.  Also considered was a significant increase of 71 per cent in single term, multi-sectioned courses offered at the first- and second-year levels. CCAS considered that all half year courses should ideally have the same 12-week term length and a reading week. In addition, new pedagogies and technologies affect how, where and when courses are delivered.

Other elements affecting the change include the goals established in the University Academic Plan 2005-2010, in particular York’s commitment to maximizing the quality of the student experience, enhancement of the University’s research culture and increasing the proportionate size of the graduate to undergraduate student body.

For more information, visit the York Secretariat Web site to view the sessional dates policy Web page.