CDE defers admission to incoming class, Grad Art Program plans for hybrid fall

Jack McGovern

The Center for Development Economics (CDE) will defer admissions for its incoming class of students to the 2021-22 academic year, while the Graduate Program in the History of Art will proceed with a combination of remote and hybrid courses in line with the College’s plan to convene an in-person semester for fall 2020.

The economics department made a formal recommendation to senior staff at the College in May to defer admissions for CDE students based on the suspension of non-emergency visa services at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. The CDE is a graduate program entirely for students from developing countries, and incoming students usually have to process their visas in May, said CDE Chair Gerard Caprio. The department could not predict at the time when services would resume. 

“We made the recommendation in May not knowing what the situation was going to be, but it turns out it’s reasonably accurate,” Caprio said. “Although it was stated that the embassies are reopening the visa process, that’s not true in many countries yet.”

The State Department announced on July 13 that visa services would begin again on a post-by-post basis, but did not provide details on where or when. In order to have begun the intensive foundational course of the one-year master’s program as it has in past years, students would have had to arrive on campus by early August.

The CDE, which serves students who are on average 10 years out of undergraduate studies, could not move to all-remote courses because its incoming class would need to secure permission from their employers to study full-time while remaining in their home countries, a challenge that Caprio said was not possible to arrange quickly.

“That was the overwhelming issue that dictated a different approach,” Caprio said. “We couldn’t move to having them do a hundred percent online classes from home.”

The Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art is a two-year master’s degree program that combines coursework with internships and workshops and is hosted at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The Program decided to convene an in-person semester at the same time as the College, according to Associate Director Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen. The decision was made following the same process as the College and students who live in college-owned residence halls will have to follow the same public health guidelines as undergraduates.

At present, seven of the eight courses listed under the Grad Art designation in the 2020-2021 Sneak Peek course catalog will be offered in a hybrid format, with only a beginner German language class scheduled to happen remotely.

Though its incoming students will not begin their degree until next year, the CDE is instead planning a series of online courses and webinars beginning in September related to economic policymaking in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics will include a webinar on the financial sector during COVID-19 taught by Caprio, a short series on macroeconomic issues taught by Professor of Economics Peter Montiel and a series on microeconomic issues related to health, education and the environment. The series will be open to alumni of the program as well as the recently admitted class.

Catherine Kalachia Michuki CDE ’20, who graduated from the program in June, said that based on her experience with the CDE, she had “complete faith” that the series would help economic policymakers around the world battling the effects of the pandemic. She said that the interaction between countries would prove especially beneficial.

“It provides avenues to analyze what worked and what does not work,” she said.

Michuki, who came to the CDE from the National Treasury in Nairobi, Kenya, is one of around a half dozen fellows from the 2019-20 cohort who have not yet returned home. Kenya suspended all international flights on March 25.

Tassha Rivera CDE ’20 is another recent CDE graduate who remains in Williamstown. She is from Peru, which was described in June as “one of the world’s worst coronavirus hotspots” by the New York Times. The government has since lifted lockdown measures after a slight decline in new cases, but infections are already beginning to rise again. She said that medical professionals in the country are worried that the hospital system will not have the ICU bed capacity to handle the coming surge.

“This pandemic has been helping me to have a deeper understanding of life and what … really matters: family, friends, being healthy, able to walk free and feel the air in your lungs,” Rivera said. “During the last months, I have been able to rethink and reorganize my life and priorities.”

While they have not been able to leave because of travel restrictions and health concerns, Michuki and Rivera said that CDE staff and faculty have been very supportive. Students were spread out across the CDE residence hall, Agard House and Wood House and provided with food and accommodation, as well as personal microwaves, fridges, masks and hand sanitizers for the duration of their stays. Staff have periodically checked in on students to talk through any concerns.

“They were just a phone call away to talk and give guidance to any of us if [we were] confused or depressed,” Michuki said. “They also listened to our grievances, especially surrounding food, and helped us when and if they could.”

Their assistance has extended into the summer, as many of the new graduates have navigated high costs and logistical difficulties in returning home. The College has acted as an intermediary to secure funding for repatriation flights, provided ground transportation to the airport and reimbursed the costs of mandatory quarantines when necessary, Michuki said.

In Kenya, the border is scheduled to reopen on August 1 with a two-week mandatory quarantine at a government-designated facility for all travelers. Michuki has already booked a flight home for the day and is hoping that there will not be further delays. She plans to return to work as soon as her 14 days are complete.

Fort Bradshaw residence hall, where a dozen first-year students of the Grad Art Program usually live, is currently under construction. The building, formerly known as Fort Hoosac, is one of two projects underway (along with the North Science building) that have not been suspended to mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic on the College. 

Still, construction was delayed when the College temporarily halted all construction projects on March 27 in response to concern about the lack of health precautions raised by a worker at the North Science site. The original completion date of Fort Bradshaw was estimated to be August 2020, but as a result of the delay, the building will open “sometime in the fall,” Butterfield-Rosen said. 

“First-year [Grad Art] students will occupy alternative College housing while the construction is completed,” she added.

The CDE residence hall will notably serve as isolation housing for undergraduates who contract COVID-19 in the fall. 

As graduate programs across the country have come under increasing financial pressure — with departments at Princeton University and New York University among several that have eliminated or reduced the size of their cohorts — the Grad Art Program has no plans to admit fewer students in coming years, according to Butterfield-Rosen.

Butterfield-Rosen also said that the Program in art history is “committed to maintaining current levels of funding” for its students, although she added that “funding decisions are ultimately made by the College.”

Though the CDE will not admit a new class of students over the next 12 months, the development economics program will take the year to devote resources to their admitted students and alumni network in a time of need, while preparing for a full cohort to return to campus in 2021.