From Friday, Feb. 5, students will be able to return to campus for the spring semester, with classes scheduled to begin online on Tuesday, Feb. 9. A no-travel spring break will take place from March 23 to 24, with Commencement scheduled for Sunday, May 30. These changes to next semester’s calendar were announced by President Michael Roth ’78 in an all-campus email on Monday, Oct. 5.
The return to campus in the spring will follow similar safety precautions to those put in place for the fall, with a two-week quarantine period scheduled from Feb. 5 to 20. The University plans for students to remain on campus through the end of final exams (May 18 to 21) in the spring, according to Associate Provost Sheryl Culotta.
The changes to next semester’s calendar were proposed in mid-September by the Spring 2021 Calendar workgroup. The workgroup included Culotta and other members of the University administration, faculty, and Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) who were appointed by Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Nicole Stanton in early September.
“The workgroup was primarily concerned with finding a way to provide the best possible educational experience for students, while also providing a greater likelihood of being able to hold classes on campus during this coming spring, and reducing the risks to the community as much as possible,” wrote Culotta in an email to The Argus. “In regards to reducing risks, we particularly focused on reducing the number of times community members would likely travel to and from campus and the data around seasonal flu infections.”
A special faculty meeting was called to discuss the proposed calendar on Tuesday, Sept. 29, and the changes for the spring were approved after a faculty vote.
Chair of the Education Policy Committee and Associate Professor of Philosophy Elise Springer, who was also a member of the Spring 2021 Calendar workgroup, explained the importance of preventing travel during the spring semester and pushing back the start of the semester to avoid increased viral transmission during the winter months.
“There were so many different perspectives to integrate, and clearly the urgency around making a change to the calendar revolved around two things: there was the need to avoid breaking up the semester with the usual spring break, which would obviously involve students traveling away from campus and then needing to quarantine afterwards,” Springer said. “So preventing the travel was the first thing, but the second was that, because winter is the peak season for viral transmission—we know this with the flu—we wanted to see if we could delay the start of the semester until at least a good chunk of that risk had passed.”
The calendar workgroup intended the two-day spring break to provide students and faculty with time to rest without creating travel-related risks for the University community, according to Springer.
“We really did want to preserve at least something like a spring break breather…and making it a Tuesday-Wednesday was the best compromise that we could pull together,” said Springer. “If we just did that for one day…[it] might not have felt like a really serious break. If we did it on a Monday, that would be a long weekend, that would be kind of an invitation to travel. So Tuesday-Wednesday was our best attempt to keep that feeling of ‘middle of the semester, pause, take stock, see where we are and do something different from the usual rhythm.’”
Though students will be allowed to move back onto campus beginning on Feb. 5, students working on theses or capstone projects that require them to be on campus will be able to petition to return before then.
“Spring break has often served as that really crucial moment for students who are writing a thesis project to be undistracted by other work and to really focus on that last big push of pulling the text together,” said Springer. “We really didn’t see any way to replicate that experience this coming spring…. So one of the things that thesis students might consider doing is petitioning with their advisor to come back early in January, especially if students need access to campus materials or labs.”
Along with the new dates for the spring semester, in his email, Roth announced that the format of Commencement and the postponed celebration for the Class of 2020 will be decided closer to the end of the academic year.
Springer stressed that students should continue following the University’s COVID-19 guidelines, and that the situation could change before the start of the spring semester.
“We’re really asking students to step up as responsible members of the community and think about their membership in the campus community—if they are on campus—as being really vital,” said Springer. “And of course we don’t know what other public health developments will emerge even between now and the end of this semester, let alone Feb. 9, so…it remains the case that we need to be alert and aware of anything that will motivate us to shift if we need to.
Jiyu Shin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jiyu_shin.