Academic calendar information for returning students in 2020–21

Dear Rising Bates Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors,

We write to provide an update on fall planning and recent steps taken to better position the college for our goal of having students return to campus in the fall, if we determine that it is safe to do so. While a more detailed communication about fall plans will be sent toward the end of this month, we did not want to delay in sharing some recent decisions with you.

Scenes from the Bates Campus on Commencement Day, May 31, 2020. The bobcat statue on the walk to Merrill Gym is outfitted with a coronavirus mask made by Christine McDowell's crew in Pettigrew Hall.
The fall planning effort places public health, the student and faculty experience, and sustaining Bates’ mission at the forefront of decision making. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

These decisions carry a two-fold message. First, we seek to safeguard the traditional, residential Bates experience. At the same time, the Bates calendar, spaces, places, and policies may feel quite different to you in the fall.

Through prior communications and the recent virtual forum, many of you know that President Clayton Spencer and Dean of the Faculty Malcolm Hill appointed a Working Group to address the ongoing implications of the pandemic.

Composed of a Finance Team and Fall Planning Team, this group brings faculty and staff into a shared space for analysis and problem solving so that the college can make critical decisions in a timely manner while considering the effects of these decisions across the college.

In addition, the Fall Planning Team has been meeting, and will continue to meet, frequently with Bates College Student Government and other student constituencies to receive input and feedback on plans as they develop. We have also considered the input provided by students and parents from the online form that was shared in a previous communication.

Over the past seven weeks, the Working Group has carefully deliberated, pressure tested, and reflected on a range of scenarios and academic calendar models for the upcoming year. With public health, the student and faculty experience, and sustaining the college’s mission at the forefront of decision making related to the academic calendar, the Fall Planning Team recommended to the faculty and senior staff that Bates adjust its academic calendar in 2020–21 in order to offer our fall and winter semesters in the 2+2 format. On Monday, June 8, the Bates faculty voted to endorse this proposed 2+2 academic calendar.

The 2+2 semester plan will be in effect regardless of whether Bates conducts in-person or remote learning in 2020–21.

Here’s what 2+2 means: For the 2020–21 academic year, the fall and winter semesters will each comprise two 7.5-week modules, providing a full semester’s worth of content in a more intensified form. Students will typically take two classes at a time, for a total of four courses over the semester.

To provide some preliminary information about the calendar, we anticipate that the first day of classes will remain Sept. 2, 2020, and that fall semester will continue through Dec. 7, 2020. For winter semester, classes are currently scheduled to begin on Jan. 13, 2021, and end on April 19, 2021. Short Term classes are scheduled to begin on April 23, 2021, and end on May 18, 2021.

This places Commencement on May 23, 2021, a week earlier than previously planned. We realize that families plan far ahead for Commencement and we apologize for any inconvenience. We hope that with this advance notice you will be able to adjust your plans.

Finally, and importantly, please know that should we return to on-campus operations in the fall, we expect to implement a schedule of phased return to campus due to public health considerations, and we ask that your arrival plans remain flexible. We are now creating a phased move-in plan; should it be determined that we will return to in-person learning, we will communicate specifics as soon as possible, hopefully by mid-July.

Under unprecedented circumstances, the 2+2 academic calendar offers both public health benefits and student experience benefits for the upcoming academic year.

Public health benefits of the 2+2 semester that mitigate COVID-19 transmission risk include:
  • Reducing classroom person-to-person contact: Most students will take two classes instead of four, which reduces the number of class-based contacts, for faculty and students, in a classroom over any given day.
  • Reducing of foot traffic in academic buildings: With typically two classes a day, the number of person-to-person contacts in academic buildings is reduced and consequently the likelihood of congestion within indoor corridors is reduced.
  • Amplifying physical distancing: With less demand on classroom space at any one time, all classes will be able to more effectively physically distance between seats due to an increased availability of larger classrooms.
  • Adding time between classes: There will likely be 30 minutes between all classes, which may result in less person-to-person contacts during class transitions and more time for sanitation if necessary.
  • Improving student meal flow: The new course schedule (“the grid”) will enable the college to space out meals, particularly for lunch and dinner. Students will likely register for a meal time for lunch and dinner to reduce congestion and to adhere to state and federal regulations for dining.
  • Reducing travel opportunities: In the new academic calendar, intra-semester breaks will be reduced (and the break between fall and winter semester will be lengthened), reducing travel opportunities while the college is in session.
  • Creating opportunities for remote learning after Thanksgiving and continuing through final examinations: With the new calendar, we imagine having the opportunity to switch to approximately one week of remote learning following Thanksgiving, giving students the opportunity to be with their families for the holiday while having fewer academic commitments following the break and not having to return to campus until January 2021.
In addition to helping us address some public health issues, the 2+2 semester supports your student experience by offering nimbleness and flexibility. Benefits of this semester structure include:
  • Reducing potential disruption if we have to transition from in-person to remote learning: While we aim to offer in-person education for the duration of next academic year, if the college had to suddenly move from in-person learning to remote learning, it would likely disrupt just two courses instead of four courses. The remote-learning survey that students completed, coupled with reports from Student Affairs staff who worked closely with students this past winter, suggest that managing relationships, deadlines, and projects while taking four courses remotely and simultaneously created difficulty in focus and prioritization for students. During the Fall Planning Team’s consultation with students over the past month, this concern has been repeatedly confirmed.
  • Preserving time for co-curricular experiences: To take the same public health precautions listed above in a traditional semester, the college would need to offer classes that consume the 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. time slot every weekday and even explore holding Saturday morning classes. This would eliminate time for co-curricular experiences that are deeply important to students. The 2+2 semester preserves much of this time for co-curricular activities while making it possible to implement the aforementioned transmission mitigation practices.
With moving to this “new” model, we also want to provide some assurances:
  • The time students spend in class in any given week will remain the same; however, this time will be spent in two classes rather than four. See sample schedule below.
  • Student workload hours in any given week will also remain the same and will be focused on two classes instead of four.
  • The semester structure is maintained, allowing you to meet college requirements and the college to maintain its accreditation and federal financial aid standards.
  • Many, if not all, academic departments will have thesis remain a semester-long experience, spanning all 15 weeks of the semester.

A Bates student’s fall semester schedule might look something like this, taking two courses in each 7.5 week “module.”

We know that this change has implications for course registration. The faculty are currently working to assign fall courses to the modules, and we are working to preserve the course registrations you made in the spring to every extent possible.

In some cases, students will need to change previous course selections, and we assure you that faculty and staff are ready to support you in making these changes. The Registrar’s Office will communicate with all returning students in July about course enrollments for the fall semester and changes that may need to be made.

With this modified academic calendar in place, faculty and staff across the college continue to make preparations for reopening the campus by focusing on best practices related to public health. Our strong, collaborative relationship with Central Maine Medical Center, the expertise of the Bates faculty, and input from experts within the broader Bates community have all been invaluable in planning for the fall semester. Through these close partnerships, we continue to engage with epidemiologists, virologists, the Maine CDC, and other leading public health experts to make decisions that are grounded in both evidence and science.

Living and learning in a residential community while engaging in academic and co-curricular activities is at the core of our immersive learning model. Through this experience, students are in community with each other, the Bates faculty, and the Bates staff, learning via self-reflection, friendship, and mentorship. When students return to campus, they can expect that these community supports and opportunities will still remain present for them; however, the calendar, spaces, places, and policies may feel quite different.

You can expect to receive another update about plans for the fall near the end of this month. As chairs of the Fall Planning Team, we assure you that we remain deeply committed to our students and to offering the best path forward to deliver the college’s mission for the upcoming academic year.

Sincerely,

Senem Aslan, Associate Professor and Chair of Politics, Fall Planning Team Co-Chair

Josh McIntosh, Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students, Fall Planning Team Co-Chair