Academic calendar information for new students in 2020–21

Dear New Bates Students,

We know that you are well on your way to joining the Bates community and want to send along a warm welcome from all of our faculty and staff. Through working on your first-year forms, to participating in video chats, to posting on the Facebook group, the Bates faculty and staff can see your enthusiasm and are equally excited to meet you.

We write to provide an update on fall planning and recent steps taken to better position the college for our goal of having students on campus in the fall — so long as 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)

Through prior communications and the new student 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 Fall Planning Team and a Finance Team, this group brings Bates faculty and staff into a shared space for analysis and problem solving so that the college can make critical and timely decisions in light of the pandemic while considering the effects of these decisions across the college.

Our preparations for reopening the campus focus 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 and others 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. In addition, the Fall Planning Team has met, 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 shared in a previous communication.

Over the past seven weeks, the entirety of the Working Group, including both the Fall Planning and Finance teams, has carefully deliberated, pressure tested, and reflected on a wide range of scenarios and academic calendar models for the upcoming year. With public health, the student and faculty experience, and sustaining Bates’ mission at the forefront of decision making related to the academic calendar, the Fall Planning Team recommended to the faculty and leadership team that Bates adjust the 2020–21 academic calendar 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 a 2+2 semester plan 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 during each semester. As many of you know, Bates students typically take four courses at a time during a 15-week semester; the 2+2 format is a modification to this structure.

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 schedule 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.

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. The First-Year Experience Team is also continuing to plan Orientation for new students, staying true to the values with which we welcome new students to Bates every year: equity and inclusion, community, academic exploration, purpose and identity, and health and wellness.

Given the unprecedented circumstances we are navigating, the 2+2 semester format offers both public health and student experience benefits for the upcoming academic year.

Public health benefits of the 2+2 semester format that help mitigate COVID-19 transmission risk include:

  • Reducing classroom person-to-person contact: Most students will take two classes at a time instead of four, which reduces the number of in-person class-based contacts for faculty and students, in a classroom over any given day.
  • Reducing foot traffic in academic buildings: With typically two classes a day, the number of person-to-person contact 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 contact 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 format will support your student experience by offering flexibility and nimbleness. 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 our returning students completed following the completion of the 2019–20 academic year, coupled with reports from Student Affairs staff who worked closely with students this past winter semester, suggest that managing relationships, deadlines, and projects while taking four courses remotely and simultaneously created difficulty in students’ ability to focus on and prioritize their array of academic commitments. 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 also explore Saturday morning classes. This would eliminate time for co-curricular experiences that are deeply important to students and essential to the growth of the whole person. The 2+2 semester format preserves much of this time for co-curricular activities while making it possible to implement the aforementioned transmission mitigation practices.

With moving to the 2+2 semester format for the 2020-21 academic year, 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 for Bates to maintain its accreditation and federal financial aid standards.

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

Living and learning in a residential community while engaging in academic and co-curricular activities is at the core of Bates’ 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. As such, we continue to do all that we can to create the conditions that would enable you to begin your Bates experience in person in the fall.

We hope this detailed information is useful to you. 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 the college’s mission, and we look forward to share the Bates experience with you in the fall.

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