Key takeaways from the past two faculty meetings

Last Wednesday and today at two extraordinary faculty meetings held on Zoom, President Maud S. Mandel and Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom gave updates on next year’s academic calendar and faculty voted on changes to the class schedule and Pass/Fail policy, as the College figures out what next academic year will look like amidst the pandemic.

Here are the main takeaways from the meetings.

The academic schedule will stay the same, but if students return to campus, classes will likely go online after Thanksgiving. Regardless, course offerings will be posted online the first week of July, with the full catalogue release, major declaration and pre-registration occurring in August.

Regardless of whether or not campus reopens, the academic schedule will go unchanged, with classes starting on Sept. 10 and ending on Dec. 11, followed by a week of finals starting Dec. 16. However, should the College hold in-person classes for the fall, Sandstrom said that faculty will be asked to transition into remote learning after Thanksgiving. Sandstrom wrote that all material provided after Thanksgiving must be facilitated remotely, along with final assignments and exams.

Sandstrom said that the College made the decision in order to ensure that students can see family and friends over Thanksgiving while preventing students from potentially bringing the virus onto campus after the break. She also wrote that students are eligible to stay on campus during the Thanksgiving break.

“This decision protects students’ ability to choose to be with loved ones over the holiday, while simultaneously protecting the campus,” Sandstrom wrote in an email to the Record

Sandstrom also outlined a more immediate timeline for faculty and students over the summer. Faculty had to let the College know by Saturday whether they plan to teach in-person or remotely, and departments must submit an initial list of courses to the registrar this Friday. A provisional list of course offerings will be published on the Registrar’s website the first week of July, and the full course catalogue with class meeting times will be released the first week of August. First-years will be paired with faculty advisors starting by early August so that students can receive advice on course registration. Pre-registration and major declaration will take place from Aug. 10 to 17 with a pre-registration review date of Aug. 18 to 23, after which students can register for fourth courses and enroll in new courses if they have been dropped. From late August to early September, class enrollments will be reviewed and students will have an Add-Drop period from early to mid-September.

Given the number of changes to both courses and the enrollment timeline, the faculty voted last week to approve a motion that would waive the usual review process for new course offerings. Typically, the Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA) reviews new and substantially revised courses each year, but with course revisions due on July 10, the Faculty Steering Committee introduced a motion to waive this process, which passed with 96 percent (203 faculty) in favor, 1 percent (two faculty) opposed and 3 percent (seven faculty) abstaining.

Professor of Classics and Faculty Steering Committee Chair Amanda Wilcox explained that this motion only slightly changes the system already in place. “Every year we vote on a course package in March, but substantial changes can and do occur after the formal adoption of the course package that lead to the addition, deletion and revision of courses,” she said. “In practice, we trust units to make prudent decisions about their curricula, and what we’re doing this summer is a more expansive version of a process that occurs every year.”

The Pass/Fail (P/F) grading policy will be more flexible, allowing students to designate a course P/F after the last week of classes, use a Pass to fulfill distributional requirements and designate all eligible courses P/F.

To address the likely difficulties that students will face in the upcoming year, the CEA proposed a more flexible P/F policy to be applied during the 2020-2021 year only, whether learning occurs on campus or remotely. Though the committee members “strongly feel that letter-grades should be available to all students who want or need them,” according to the memo from the June 17 meeting, they also acknowledged the hardships students may face “on a par with the difficulties experienced by many in spring 2020,” which might make the normal grading system too restrictive. One motion on P/F courses passed last Wednesday, and another motion passed today that expanded upon the previous motion and added more lenience.

The original proposal made last Wednesday consists of three parts. The first motion gives students until the end of the last week of classes to withdraw from a course or decide to have it graded on a P/F basis, if the course is available for P/F. Under the current Pass/Fail policy, students may designate a course P/F only up to the tenth week of the semester. During the meeting, some faculty objected to the motion, raising concerns that students might take advantage of the system’s flexibility. The motion still passed with 69 percent (133 faculty) voting in favor, 23 percent (45 faculty) opposed and 7 percent (14 faculty) abstaining.

The second motion of the proposal allows students to use a Pass grade to satisfy College distributional requirements — including divisional, WS, Q and DPE requirements — which is not allowed under the current policy. During the meeting, the committee reiterated that requirements within majors will remain up to individual departments to decide whether or not to adjust. The motion passed with 80 percent (147 faculty) in favor, 16 percent (29 faculty) opposed and 4 percent (8 faculty) abstaining.

The third and final motion gives students the ability to designate a fourth course P/F, if they take a fourth course and it is eligible for P/F, without counting it as one of the three P/F courses that students are currently allowed to take throughout their time at the College. Seventy-seven percent of faculty (137) voted in favor, while 14 percent (25 faculty) opposed and 8 percent (15 faculty) abstained, passing the motion. 

However, during today’s extraordinary faculty meeting, the CEA voted to allow students to take all courses eligible for P/F as P/F during the 2020-2021 academic year, as opposed to just the fourth course, as voted on last week.

The committee initially proposed three different options with three different levels of flexibility for the P/F policy. The first motion would allow students to designate all eligible courses as P/F during the 2020-2021 academic year without counting towards their three-course allowance during their time at the College. The second would allow students to take two of the three courses P/F without counting towards the three P/F currently allowed, and the third motion would allow students to take one class P/F of the three required courses per semester.

The faculty began by voting on the most flexible motion, which would allow students to take all eligible courses P/F, and if that motion did not pass, they would move on to voting on the second motion; if that did not pass, they would vote on the third and least-flexible option.

The first motion, allowing students to designate all their courses P/F for the next year, passed with 57 percent (105 faculty) voting in favor, 32 percent (60 faculty) opposed and 11 percent (20 faculty) abstaining. 

Despite these three adjustments, last week’s memo stressed that two features of the current Pass/Fail policy will remain unchanged: courses’ availability for P/F remains at the discretion of individual faculty, and grading options for P/F will remain binary (either Pass or Fail, as opposed to including High Pass or Perfunctory Pass), with “Pass” indicating a D- or above.

If classes are on campus, the daily class schedule will look different, including no division of the day and no three-hour class blocks for the upcoming academic year. If classes are online, the typical schedule would shift two hours later in the day, with classes beginning at 10 a.m. EDT.

At the first meeting, the faculty approved a motion to change the class schedule if courses are on campus, decreasing time spent in enclosed spaces and increasing time in between classes so as to provide time to clean classrooms. In order to implement these changes, the faculty also voted to temporarily suspend division of the day, the system in which no classes are held between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. EDT to accommodate athletics and extracurriculars, for the 2020-2021 academic year.

The new schedule eliminates three-hour class blocks on Monday and Wednesday nights and Wednesday afternoons, in response to public health recommendations that groups do not remain in closed spaces for prolonged periods of time, a change that will also shorten labs. The schedule also eliminates 50-minute class meetings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This change was made in order to increase passing time between classes, “necessary to limit students’ running into each other in the hallways, as well as to allow for cleaning time and some deadtime between consecutive uses of classroom space,” said Lee Park, professor of chemistry and member of the Working Group on Returning for Fall 2020.

To make up for these lost class blocks, the new schedule if students return to campus includes new slots on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Monday and Wednesday mornings and Wednesday and Friday afternoons. These changes would have classes starting earlier in the morning on Tuesday and Thursday – at 8 a.m. like on other weekdays – and going later into the day through 8 p.m. on Monday through Thursday. 

The motion to suspend division of the day for one year passed with 93 percent (197 faculty) in favor, 3 percent (seven faculty) opposed and 3 percent (seven faculty) abstaining. The motion to change the schedule if classes are on campus passed with 86 percent (175 faculty) in favor, 7 percent (14 faculty) opposed and 7 percent (15 faculty) abstaining. 

Some faculty in language departments expressed concerns about the new schedule’s ability to accommodate language courses, which have often met daily, a schedule not explicitly represented in the new version.

Park noted that neither the old schedule nor the new schedule include slots for daily classes, labs or longer blocks for theatre or art classes, and that like previously, these departments will draw from a few different class blocks to fulfill their needs.

Professor of Chinese Li Yu explained that this problem is not unique to the new schedule. “Over the years, foreign language faculty have had to cobble together our meeting times, changing our instructional cycles to fit the rigid Class Hour Grid, instead of vice versa — having an instructional cycle that would support language learning,” she said.

“We have basically taken a ‘bandaid’ approach to fix the problems of the Class Hour Grid in the past few decades,” Yu said. “It is long overdue to take a fresh look at how we coordinate the time and space of learning at this institution.”

Though this schedule would only go into effect if students are on-campus in the fall, the Calendar and Scheduling Committee brought a motion today to adopt a different revised schedule if courses are completely online next year. That schedule would shift courses two hours later, so that most classes would run between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. EDT, while keeping the schedule for evening courses the same. This change would mean that no student in the continental U.S. would have a class before 7 a.m. or later than 6 p.m., other than night classes. 

The motion passed with 93 percent (169 faculty) in favor, 2 percent (four faculty) opposed and 5 percent (nine faculty) abstaining.

Some faculty raised concerns about this schedule’s compatibility with students in time zones outside of the continental U.S., if courses are completely online in the fall. The motion in the faculty meeting agenda read, “It is important to recognize that the proposed schedule does not reduce the difficulties faced by students in several other time zones around the world. But our existing schedule is not significantly better for many of those students, and given that our faculty are based in the eastern time zone, there is no schedule that could reasonably address all of the challenges.” 

Faculty also raised questions about language classes and labs that typically meet outside of the existing schedule, which committee members explained would be added through the registrar by drawing on multiple class blocks like usual. For both potential lab and international students, committee members also noted that faculty will be able to provide meeting slots outside of the scheduled course hours, as long those meetings remain optional.