On Thursday, the academic calendar for spring 2021 was released after being under review since the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic set in. The first day of classes is an unprecedented Feb. 15.
Classes normally begin in the third week of January and end with final exam week in the second week of May, but the end date for the upcoming spring schedule will be May 28. In a BingUNews article released Thursday, Donald Nieman, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, cited two main reasons for the later start date: an attempt to curb the flu-season and a way to offer more time for the winter session.
“First, we hope it gets us beyond the peak of the flu season — just as sending students home at Thanksgiving and teaching the last week of classes remotely does this fall,” Nieman said. “Public health officials worry that a combination of flu and COVID-19 could be particularly challenging for individuals who contract both, and it could make diagnosis of individuals who are ill more difficult because the symptoms of both diseases are so similar.”
The addition of two weeks to the winter session allows classes to be offered for three to four credits rather than the normal two, offering some students the opportunity to graduate early and save money. The last day of the session will be Feb. 5.
Cait Roberts, a senior majoring in English, said the plan will negatively affect off-campus students whose leases finalize before the spring semester’s end date.
“My lease ends May 25,” Roberts wrote. “While finals are extended to May 28, so many students will be in the process of moving during finals.”
The fall 2020 schedule has no breaks until Thanksgiving, when all classes are set to go fully online. The same rules will apply for the upcoming spring schedule, including the absence of spring break.
Lucas Kemmerling, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, recognized the difficulties of no breaks in a semester.
“Having [no] breaks definitely creates a challenge,” Kemmerling wrote. “It makes it pretty easy to become burnt out. However, whatever we can do to stay as safe as possible, I’m willing to do.”
Like Kemmerling, Brenna Engelhardt, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, believes no breaks adds to the stress level of students, but recognizes the University’s reason for doing so.
“I would say I’m unhappy about not having breaks again, but I understand why they are doing it,” Engelhardt wrote. “I know if breaks were given students would be more tempted to travel and there could be a higher chance of an outbreak occurring. Not having breaks has been hard though and I do feel drained by the semester already.”
Additionally, Roberts expressed concern about the mental health of students, due to the lack of breaks.
“I’m also just not happy with how condensed the semester is becoming by having such a late start,” Roberts wrote. “Professors are going to be scrambling to fit everything into three months of instruction and with the continued loss of breaks it’s going to have negative effects on students’ mental health.”
Nieman said that the later start date should not affect enrollment, but rather increase students’ comfortability with attending in-person classes without the flu season. He also mentioned that it will allow more time for international students to schedule coming to campus.
“In addition, the later start makes it more likely that more international students will be able to get appointments at consulates for visa interviews, arrange travel and come to campus,” Nieman said “We have approximately 600 deferrals and hope to pick up a greater number of those by starting later.”
Nieman did not state if classes would be held online, in person or in a hybrid mode. Katie Houghtalen, a senior majoring in human development, hopes the extra time will allow for more in-person classes.
“I think it’s smart of the University to not announce the mode of next semester’s classes to make sure the decision best fits the amount of cases that we’ll have in the coming months,” Houghtalen wrote. “Having a later start date gives more time to gauge the virus and maybe even get a vaccine. I’m hoping there will be more in-person classes next semester, at least for smaller discussions because it’s been hard to keep focus and motivation with all my classes over Zoom.”
Engelhardt believes that classes will still be held online next semester.
“I think next semester will probably be hybrid again,” Engelhardt wrote. “I don’t see there being fully in-person classes by the fall. It just doesn’t seem possible at this point in time.”
Gabriella Vallario, a junior majoring in geography, believes the move to a later start date is best for safety.
“I feel that the later start day will be effective in preventing more illness to spread on campus,” Vallario wrote. “Peak flu season is during the colder months and with the pandemic at hand, avoiding the flu will be greatly beneficial. The combination of the flu and [COVID-19] could prove to be quite detrimental and the late start day can aid in its prevention and the promotion of health on campus.”