Saving grace or too little too late?

Mila Yarovaya, Co-Editor-in-Chief

With President Meric Gertler’s announcement on November 20th, UofT is officially joining an ever growing list of Ontario universities who are extending their winter break in light of the challenges faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Classes for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Science are now set to begin on January 11th, a week later than initially anticipated. Some graduate and professional programs have shifted  to the updated schedule and others staying put with the original session dates so as “to ensure that students in these programs can complete their courses in a timely manner as planned.”

The University explains  that the change is being implemented in order to alleviate the additional hardships placed on the student body “because of the burdens imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.” The extra week, according to the statement, is designed to help students “rest and recharge, and to make the most of the upcoming holiday break.” Students  pushed for the extra time off in part because  it will allow students who are travelling to be with their families for the holidays with enough time to quarantine upon their return and thereby lessen the already harsh burden that international and out-of-province students have had to bear. University “staff-appointed employees” will return to work during the habitual January 4th. The faculty of Arts and Science has announced that the shift in the winter term will not otherwise affect the session dates – the February reading week still scheduled for February 15-19th and the end of term for April 30th.  

But with little to no work left to do for the upcoming winter term, the decision begs the question: is it too little too late? Wouldn’t a more effective solution have been to extend the fall reading week in order to give students extra breathing room when it’s most needed in the middle of the term, much like Ryerson opted to do this semester? 

A sign that the university is finally listening to the voices of its students might be the change.org petition started by three University of Toronto students – Javahir Saidov, Nada Abdelaal, and Rahat Charyyev, urging the administration to extend its winter break. The petition was circulated throughout the UofT community and has collected nearly 9000 signatures following its inception earlier in November. 

Indeed, it is a small success that the administrative staff acknowledged the student-signed petition and acted accordingly; however,  the University must recognize that it is not enough. Given UofT’s history of poor  mental health resources it is clear that a week-long extension is nothing but a band-aid solution when what need is   immediate and systemic reform. 

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