The Contingency Planning Task Force was created by the President’s Office to consider multiple ways the Fall 2020 semester could play out. While the University has not yet announced whether campus will be open, the group hopes to come to a decision by the end of June.
The task force is chaired by Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Nicole Stanton. The group itself consists of Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Rosenthal, Associate Provost Mark Hovey, Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley, University Registrar Anna van der Burg, Ben Garfield ’22 and Jake Kwon ’21 of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Academic Affairs Committee, as well as a variety of faculty members from all three divisions.
The task force has come up with a few options for the fall through research and communication with peer institutions. The first option, and the one most are hoping for, is to have students return to campus in the fall and start the semester on time with in-person classes.
“Members of the task force and Academic Affairs have been hearing from students, parents, faculty and staff through email, phone calls, and meetings regarding their experiences these past few weeks,” Stanton wrote in an email to The Argus. “In all of those instances, the feedback has been that most everyone would like to have our community back together again, on campus, next fall. This is anecdotal at this point, and Academic Affairs is in the process of trying to gather more comprehensive data to clarify that through a forthcoming survey of students and faculty. We are also setting up virtual public forums to hear from all members of our community as we move forward.”
However, Stanton explained that there will likely be a group of students who may be unable to return to campus for a host of reasons.
“It’s not likely that the virus is going to be completely cured, so there could be faculty and students that fall ill,” Stanton said in a phone call with The Argus. “There will be students who have complicating health factors, so it’s not recommended [that they come to campus]. We’re also thinking about immigration issues. As you may know, the landscape for immigration is also shifting under our feet in not always pleasant ways.”
Stanton emphasized that the task force has considered these possibilities and is brainstorming ways to address them.
“We want to make sure that even if we are on campus, that we are able to allow all of our community members to engage with the curriculum in some way,” Stanton said. “We are trying to think about ways to have some kind of streaming online option for people who can’t make it to campus.”
The second option is to change the academic calendar, which would provide time for the University to gather more information on the safety of reopening campus.
Changing the calendar could take a number of forms.
“We’ve thought about, very simply, pushing the calendar back by about one month,” Stanton said. “We have a pretty clear way of thinking about that, it wouldn’t create a lot of stress in terms of registration or curriculum or any of those things. It would just delay things a little bit.”
The task force has also considered breaking up the semester.
“Right now we’re working with the registrar’s office, [they’re] helping us model different ways we could create flexibility in the way we’re scheduling our semester,” Stanton explained. “Do we think of it as trimester? Do we break it up into modules? Things like that.”
This would likely influence the spring semester as well.
“Any change to the fall semester would result in shifts to the spring as we need to maintain our 15 weeks of teaching per semester,” Stanton wrote in the email to The Argus. “The options we’ve been thinking through help us to preserve the possibility of the in-person experience.”
The final option, which Stanton believes is the least desired by the Wesleyan community, is that classes will be held online. This would happen if the federal government and medical professionals deemed it unsafe to open campus in the fall. However, the task force is hoping that this will look a little bit different than this semester.
“If federal guidelines came in [and said] this is what we have to do, how can we create a curriculum, how can we shape, enrich, expand, transform our curriculum so that it is as rich and robust and as distinctive, definitely different, but as rich and robust as we could possibly get it to be,” Stanton explained. “I think our faculty and students have been spectacular this semester. We had two weeks, and everybody jumped in and transformed the way they’re teaching and the way they’re learning. But if we have to do this for an extended period of time, we want to really think deeply about what that would be.”
Stanton also emphasized that throughout all the brainstorming, the task force has been thinking about how to continue supporting the Wesleyan community.
“What we’re thinking about with all of these models, but especially with the fully online model, is community,” Stanton said. “How do we build, keep, grow, community, how do we address some of the needs that we’ve learned these past few weeks about students in different kinds of situations, different kinds of home environments, and how do we really support those students and those faculty in these new contexts.”
With all these options on the table, Stanton explained that the University will be looking to legal and medical advice to decide which option is best for the community.
“We’re thinking about what kind of advice we get from state and federal authorities, what are we allowed to do,” Stanton explained. “For now, Connecticut is in a shelter in place, with only essential businesses doing essential functions. So that would preclude us from going forward in the same way that we usually do. So we’ll be looking for advice. And then, how do we make sure we create and maintain a safe environment for students, for faculty, for staff, moving forward. We’ll look to medical experts, to sort of think through what and how that will look like.”
Additionally, Stanton emphasized that the task force is in the brainstorming part of the process.
“We’re early in the planning process, and so that whatever models we’re thinking through, these are our drafts,” Stanton said. “These are working models that we’re just building the scaffolding around them.”
Before moving forward with one option and determining what that would mean for tuition, housing, and other expenditures, the task force is seeking feedback from students. A survey will be sent out to all students in the coming weeks.
“We want to hear from you,” Stanton said. “We really want to hear from you. What about this semester worked, what was challenging, what might you bring forward in terms of your learning, whether, whether we’re online or not. If folks have any ideas, I am there. Please feel free to email me. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts and experiences in ways that we can support you going forward.”
Hannah Doctor-Loeb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.