Student, faculty senates work toward compromise for spring well-being days

As a jam-packed spring semester draws near, the Student Governing Association student senate is attempting to secure two well-being days off school for Kansas State students. (Archive Photo by Evert Nelson | Collegian Media Group)

As a jam-packed spring semester draws near, the Student Governing Association student senate is attempting to secure two well-being days for Kansas State students. SGA’s goal with these days off is to alleviate some of the stress of a semester without a break.

With the university canceling spring break to minimize COVID-19 spread, the spring 2021 semester is set to begin January 25 and conclude on May 14. With this current plan, the spring 2021 semester would consist of 16 consecutive full weeks of school.

Tel Wittmer, student body president and senior in secondary educaiton, is one of many students who believe a couple days off to decompress would be beneficial to everyone.

“We’re not asking for anything major,” Wittmer said. “We’re asking for a very small change that could make a very big difference in the lives of our students.”

Despite strong support from the student body and unanimous approval by the student senate, the faculty senate denied the first proposal for well-being days. The justification for this decision is two-fold: there is potential spread of COVID-19 with students traveling and coming back and there is more missed class time in an already shortened semester.

SGA wasted little time after the denial and began working with the faculty senate to come up with a second proposal that would please both sides while also considering the well-being of students.

“I tell people this all the time — we have the best working relationship with our faculty and our administration, and I don’t question for a second that they have the best interest of students at heart,” Wittmer said.

Collaboration between the student and faculty senates allowed for progress toward an approved proposal.

The most notable change from this collaboration was requesting two Fridays off rather than two Mondays. The dates SGA requested off in the second proposal are Feb. 26 and April 16.

Laurel Littrell, professor at Hale Library and faculty senate president-elect, collaborated with Wittmer to come up with a plan.

The issue of well-being days is serious, Littrell said, and she took note of the student senate to make its proposal a reality.

“I’ve been really moved by some of the discussions that student government members have had about the need for these days,” Littrell said. “Personally, I voted for the first proposal, and I plan to vote for the second proposal as well because this is really important to the students. They’ve done a lot of research, they’ve talked to a lot of people, they’ve done a lot of study about the impact on classes and I think it’s a very thorough and well-thought-through proposal.”

Littrell is one of 34 faculty senate members who voted in favor of the first proposal.

Faculty senate president and professor in applied human sciences Melinda Markham said the student senate’s commitment to their fellow students has led to a vigorous fight for well-being days.

Markham attended the first proposal hearing and is involved in the collaboration process with the student senate. She said the difference in opinion between the student and faculty senates boils down to differing priorities.

“We think that students are placing the highest value on mental health and well-being, and some faculty senators may be placing higher value on reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Markham said. “I think that all groups understand and value all of those values, it just might be who is weighing which of those values a little more than the other.”

Markham said she heard a couple senators who previously voted against or abstained from the vote plan to vote yes on the upcoming proposal.

“It’s just going to be seeing if we have enough of those individuals who would vote in favor in order to get this changed,” Markham said.

Kodee Walls, Counseling Services assistant director, said it’s vital for K-State students to work on their mental health regardless of whether the faculty senate grants well-being days.

“Stress management and seeking social support are incredibly important,” Walls said. “Loneliness is a huge predictor of well-being, and when someone is feeling a desire to pull away from support networks, they must challenge that desire because it’s only going to cause more hurt in the long-term.”

K-State offers several services related to mental health which students and faculty can access on the Counseling Services website.

The rocky road toward reaching an agreement on well-being days will end next week, as the faculty senate casts their final votes on Dec. 8.