On June 2, William Jewell College announced in an email to students that in-person classes will not resume after Thanksgiving break 2020. Fall Break has been moved to Nov. 23 and 24 – giving students a full week of break for Thanksgiving. Advising Days have been moved from Tuesday, Oct. 27 and Wednesday, Nov. 4 to Thursday, Oct. 29 and Wednesday, Nov. 4.
Jewell made the decision in order to decrease the amount of potential travel throughout the semester and allow students and faculty to return home for Thanksgiving without needing to worry about quarantining for 14 days upon returning. The decision was made to promote the most possible in-person, on-campus education without keeping members of the Jewell community away from their families for the holidays.
An email announcement from Dr. Anne Dema, provost of the College, and Shelly King, dean of students, discussed the motivation for making a decision regarding the fall schedule so early on.
“Making these changes now are essential so faculty members may plan the best classes possible for the fall, Student Life and Academic Support staff can plan the best co-curricular and support services as possible for students, and Student Organizations can make plans, accordingly. The timing also allows students to make decisions about their individual travel plans,” the email said.
Dema said that the decision was made as part of an awareness of concerns regarding the fall schedule from faculty and healthcare experts – who want to mitigate the effects of an outbreak on planned activities.
“Questions about making changes to the fall schedule arose in several faculty conversations including those had by a group of faculty led by Dr. Gina Lane, who facilitated a survey of faculty about their spring, post-spring break experience, and faculty members on the Operation Safe Campus group led by Mr. Daniel Holt,” Dema said.
The College paid attention to how other schools in the region and in the country were planning for the fall semester and the speculation about a resurgence of the virus in late fall. Jewell was also limited in its response without approval from outside entities like the U.S. Department of Education or the Higher Learning Commission. Changing start and stop dates requires external approval but shifting of breaks can be decided by the College itself.
Dema discussed other alternatives that were considered by the Cabinet before final decisions were made.
“We discussed whether or not to have classes on Labor Day, but decided not to cancel this day off. I know some schools have decided to hold sessions on Labor Day, and even to start early, but we didn’t see the potential gain, especially since everyone will always have a two-day weekend in which he or she will have to make smart choices about keeping themselves and their community healthy in the midst of a pandemic,” Dema said.
In addition to shifting the fall schedule, the College is considering implementing a self-isolation of 14 days prior to the start of both the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters for students coming from farther away. If students are asked to self-isolate for 14 days before official move-in day, they will be provided food from dining services.
The email announcement said that such precautionary measures would likely be in place, but Dema indicated this self-isolation may not be necessary and that guidelines are still in development. Dema said people are anxious to know more about details for precautionary self-quarantine, so they are eager to finalize details as soon as possible.
Jewell’s Cabinet made the decision to move Fall Break and advising days, while faculty made the ultimate decision about going virtual after Thanksgiving. Academic department and faculty leaders made the decision with endorsement from the Cabinet.
Dr. Ian Coleman, professor of music and Faculty Council chair, described the decision making process on the part of the faculty.
“The road ahead is, to say the least, uncertain, and I think we are all looking for any opportunity to make final decisions so that we can have at least some sense of what the fall will look like,” Coleman said. “When all the factors were taken into account, including, but not limited to what other schools are doing, how our students usually travel over Thanksgiving Break, the possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19 in the winter weather, the high possible need for quarantine when returning from travel, and so forth, it just seemed to make sense that we make this call now, sooner rather than later, so that faculty can be preparing classes with this schedule in mind, and students can come back with some clarity about the semester ahead. One of the main challenges last semester, for obvious reasons, is that we started it with one calendar in mind, the usual one we always follow, and had to end it very differently. We would like to avoid that as much as possible for the fall. I think these are the reasons there was so much support for this idea.”
Coleman reiterated the thought and intention that contributed to the decision, and hope that making the decision about virtual learning after Thanksgiving so early will enable the most effective semester possible.
“I would just want to stress that this decision was not taken lightly, or easily, or without much discussion and careful consideration. The goal is to still offer an entire semester of instruction, but the weeks after Thanksgiving will be offered virtually, rather than in the classroom together. So the College is not closing after Thanksgiving, we are just choosing now, before it is forced upon us by circumstance, to anticipate that it will be best for all that we not meet in person after Thanksgiving break,” Coleman said.
“I think it is fair to say that what the Faculty want is to teach their classes in the usual on-ground way to our students, because we value and enjoy the real time, in the classroom, interaction and dialogue that is such an important part of a Jewell education,” continued Coleman. “That sort of face-to-face instruction, where you can look a student in the eye as you ask an important question or watch as an idea forms in the student’s mind right in front of you, that’s the sort of interaction and teaching we want to do… [But] never for one minute think that the Jewell Faculty want anything other than to teach in the way we have for so many years, in the classroom interacting with students in person for the entire semester.”
More information about modes of delivery for classes in the fall can be found in an upcoming article.
Students may reach out to Dema, King, Coleman or Mario Magaña, junior business administration major and interim Student Senate president, if they have questions about the schedule changes.
“Please know that none of these decisions were made lightly or in haste. They are the result of good deliberations among members of the Jewell community with the best interests of all in mind and a desire to be proactive in support of Operation Safe Campus,” the email said before providing resources for students with questions.
Dema said thus far the response has been exclusively positive as the schedule changes were viewed as logical changes in light of current circumstances.
Many colleges and universities have changed the schedule of the fall semester in response to COVID-19. The University of Notre Dame will begin two weeks early and remove Fall Break. Yale University has also decided all post-Thanksgiving activities will be virtual.
Jewell was one of the first colleges in the nation to announce their intent to reopen in the fall, and they plan to release more information about a safe return to campus throughout the summer.