March 3: Academic Calendar Update for Fall 2021

Dear Bates Students and Families,

I write today to share an update about our planning for the Fall 2021 semester. At our regular monthly meeting on Monday evening, the Bates faculty—which is charged by the college’s bylaws with responsibility for the academic calendar and curriculum—voted to endorse a 2+2 modular structure for instruction in the Fall 2021 semester. Under this system, the standard academic semester is divided into two modules, seven and a half weeks in length, during which students take two courses at a time, for a total of four each semester.

The faculty reached this decision based on the available public health guidance that we may be required to maintain some level of physical distancing in classrooms next fall. The modular structure allows us to de-densify classrooms because fewer classes are meeting simultaneously. The timing of the faculty’s endorsement was driven by the lead time required to plan for course scheduling and registration.

However, in light of yesterday’s announcement from the White House about the rapid acceleration of vaccine production and the promise of sufficient vaccine supply for every adult in the United States by the end of May, we intend to take time to assess whether this development may change the outlook for the fall semester. This will depend on a number of factors, including: 

  • The pace at which vaccines will be administered this spring, especially for those between the ages of 18 and 22;
  • The impact of new, highly transmissible variants; 
  • Whether new vaccine-resistant variants emerge; 
  • How the pandemic progresses over the next six months, as states reduce public health restrictions; and 
  • The public policy environment in Maine regarding physical distancing for the fall. 

Because of these remaining uncertainties, President Biden carefully balanced yesterday’s hopeful news with caution that we are far from a final conclusion to this pandemic. “We cannot let our guard down now or assure that victory is inevitable,” he said, noting that masking and physical distancing remain essential to our national pandemic response. 

With positive news breaking every week, including yesterday’s announcement by President Biden, we are optimistic that by the fall, student life at Bates will look much more like it did before the pandemic, with greater flexibility for the in-person gatherings and activities that are such an essential part of the Bates experience. It is unlikely, however, that we will be 100 percent “back to normal” as early as the fall. The public health experts who have been advising Bates since March 2020, including Dr. Stacey Rizza P’20 and Dr. Jack O’Horo of the Mayo Clinic, have cautioned us that a certain level of masking and physical distancing may be necessary, and potentially required by state mandates, through at least the end of the calendar year 2021. 

Many of our faculty and students are eager to return to the full-semester, four-course model as soon as it is possible and prudent—as am I. But with the facts we can count on today, we’re not there yet. Rather than bind ourselves to current options, we will extend our planning timeline for a period of weeks to make sure that we are in a position to capitalize on positive developments in the pandemic if and as they emerge. 

Even if we extend the modular structure to next fall, we want to be clear that this decision would solely concern the structure of our academic program for the fall, not other aspects of life on campus such as dining, co-curricular activities, residence hall access, etc. We will be working on these dimensions of the student experience this spring and over the summer, as we continue to learn more.  

I appreciate the patience and generosity of our students and families as we continue to respond to constantly changing conditions and considerable uncertainty. We will make sure to keep you updated as our plans evolve.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Hill
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty