NVU announces two-day break for students, faculty


Photoshopped by Rebecca Flieder

Elaine Collins and the Executive Team giving students the two day break.

At the NVU-Johnson Faculty Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 13, the faculty unanimously passed a motion to give students a five-day break from Wednesday, Oct. 28 through the following Sunday.
Three days later, on Oct. 16, NVU President Elaine Collins announced through an email that NVU would instead hold a two-day break for its students on Oct. 28 and 29.
The idea was first proposed at an Oct. 8 meeting convened by the administration with student leaders from both campuses. Students talked for an hour about how exhausted and burnt out they were, facing high levels of stress and massive workloads. Several likened the experience to “drowning in homework.”
Several students confessed their reluctance to return to NVU in Spring 2021, fearing a similar hit to mental health and social stability.
Following the meeting, Provost Nolan Atkins devised a plan: since the University wanted to discourage traveling, they couldn’t simply offer a five-day break Monday through Friday. The alternative was to offer a “three-day” from Oct 28-30, with an implied weekend as well.
The idea was then presented to the faculty at the Assembly and met with unwavering support from professors.
“I recall that the students reported to us that they’re at a point now in the semester where they simply show up,” said Atkins. “They stare at the screen, and they’re just—there’s nothing that’s being learned or absorbed. We heard loud and clear, loud and clear: ‘We need a break!’
“They need a break just to have some downtime, to catch up, to rejuvenate. There’s just many of our students there, and they’re in a tough place right now.
“I worry about what this will mean for our fall-to-spring retention. We had a couple of students say to us, ‘I don’t know if I’m coming back, because I don’t know if I can do this again.’
“All of us have been flying from the seat of our pants,” said Ken Leslie, professor of fine arts. “We want to do the best we can for our students. We are trying to hold certain standards to somewhat match what we’ve been able to do in the past.
“I know this semester… is running at about two-thirds as much as I usually get accomplished, and I have to be good with that. But I also think the message is really clear. I’m seeing it in all of my classes. I’m seeing it in the halls. People are exhausted.
“What’s the thing we are risking if we do it and it turned out maybe wasn’t necessary? I don’t think that’s possible. I think the risk of not giving this break is a message to them that we are tone deaf.”
Leslie likened the situation to World War Two. “If [during WWII] you could have a meal with a turnip, you’d be thrilled. That would be a great meal. Normally, a turnip isn’t good enough.
“But we are at a war situation here, and we’re battling it. And we want to give our students the best that it could be for this semester: a turnip. But let’s give it to them in a way that makes them feel good about what they’ve been able to do.”
Leslie reaffirmed his support, then added that while he was going to have to totally reconfigure his classes through the end of the semester, he knew it was worth it. “I can do that,” he said. “They need this.”
After some discussion about offering exceptions for once-a-week classes and theater productions, Assembly Chair Tyrone Shaw asked to take the motion to a vote, unless there were any exceptions or objections.
“I object to it being called al-turnip-tive breaks,” joked Isaac Eddy, performing arts professor. “I do not abide. I do not hang with that.”
“The dude does not abide,” said Shaw. “Can we make a note of that?”
Joking aside, the motion passed unanimously.
Despite the motion’s language concerning a five-day break, feedback from faculty and staff necessitated that the break would not include Friday. Many once-a-week classes meet on Friday, and several staff noted in the meeting that they worried about students traveling. The exceptions for theater productions and once-a-week classes were taken into consideration and accepted.
Atkins acknowledged this concern, and added that some students were going to travel nonetheless. Most likely, rising COVID-19 cases in nearby counties like Grafton, New Hampshire, forced the split break, with a Friday in the middle. Since many students have no classes on Friday anyway, this break may still span five days.
“During this break, we would like you, our NVU students, to relax and refresh so you can resume your studies and finish out the semester a bit renewed,” said the email from Collins. “Take a walk outside to fill your lungs with fresh air. Exercising outdoors is one of the healthiest ways to reduce stress.  Read a book for pleasure. Catch up on homework. Take a nap. Watch a movie. Spend time with a friend or two in a socially distanced way—and with masks.”