Mandel announces reduction of required courses from four to three, elimination of Winter Study for 2020-2021 academic year

Graphic by Nigel Jaffe/The Williams Record

In an all-campus email sent today, President Maud S. Mandel announced plans to adopt a revised version of the regular two-semester academic calendar for the 2020-21 academic year. Regardless of whether classes are in-person or remote, students will be required to take a minimum of three courses each semester rather than four. Winter Study will not take place in January 2021.

“A two-semester model with reduced per-semester credit requirements and more space in the calendar offers the greatest latitude to meet diverse needs without compromising the quality of our education,” Mandel wrote in the email.

“The model also depends on a further change to college policies,” she explained. The College will have to reduce the course requirements for students enrolled in the 2020-2021 academic year in order for students to graduate on time. However, this change in graduation requirements has not yet been confirmed; the matter will be put to a faculty vote. It is not yet clear how or if this change will affect major and distribution requirements.

The College will implement this academic model whether or not on-campus classes resume in the fall. Earlier this semester, Mandel announced that she will make a decision on returning to campus by July 1. Prior to today’s email announcement, the administration was weighing a wide range of academic models for the upcoming year, including a trimester system, a three-semester system, a quarter system and beginning with a remote Winter Study. 

Several days ago, Mandel approached the faculty with the option of implementing a trimester or three-semester model, which were considered the leading options at the time. In an interview with the Record last week, Mandel cited faculty feedback as a primary motivation for moving away from one of those models. “I think we’re trying to assess that feedback, and if the feedback fundamentally challenges the model, we might move away from it,” Mandel said. Ultimately, the College decided to continue with the standard two semesters.

The decision to maintain a two-semester schedule while altering academic requirements and canceling Winter Study was the result of deliberation by senior staff and faculty representatives, including the elected members of the Faculty Steering Committee and the chairs of the Committee on Educational Affairs, the Curricular Planning Committee and the Honor and Discipline Committee. 

Mandel also announced the membership of a new working group that will determine how best to implement this approach in the event that students are unable to return to campus in the fall. The group is co-chaired by incoming Dean of the Faculty Safa Zaki and Chair of Classics and Jewish Studies Edan Dekel. In the coming weeks, the group will collaborate with the Office of the Dean of the Faculty and the Committee on Appointments and Promotions to investigate the implications of the new model. “They’ll reach out to faculty, departments, and programs to evaluate the implications for class size, sequencing, major requirements, honors processes and pedagogy, among other issues,” as well as questions of faculty workload and evaluation, Mandel explained in the email.

Mandel also announced plans for the working group to “survey faculty, staff and students about the model’s possible impact on our diverse community.” Details on the survey will be released shortly.

This is a developing story. See additional content that the Record released on this topic here. If you are a member of the College community and would like to write an op-ed on this decision, you can reach Opinions Editors Kitt Urdang and Saud Afzal Shafi at ksu1 and ss25.