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William & Mary announces ‘Path Forward’ for fall and beyond

  • Path Forward:
    Path Forward:  Five multidisciplinary teams including representatives from across campus engaged in a rapid design-thinking process for this first planning phase, focusing on the themes of flexibility, safety, wellness, equity, collaboration, innovation and service.  Graphic by Melissa Payne
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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, William & Mary will have an in-person fall semester that starts early and ends before Thanksgiving, President Katherine A. Rowe announced in an email today.

The announcement also discussed the university’s plans for health safeguards adopted for the campus community throughout the semester, including adaptations to classes and operations. More details are available on the university’s Path Forward website.

Five multidisciplinary teams including representatives from across campus engaged in a rapid design-thinking process for this first planning phase. They focused on seven themes: flexibility, safety, wellness, equity, collaboration, innovation and service. 

“As the planning group evaluated W&M’s options for the fall, we thought hard about the reasons to return to on-campus teaching and learning,” Rowe said. “Ultimately, our mission calls us back. The uncertainty of pandemic persists and no single path or solution will meet the needs of all. Yet a return to campus speeds access to student learning and community, under pandemic, in numerous ways. Students are asking to return and we have heard them. I have confidence in the creativity of our staff and faculty to partner with students and families and find the best solution for each.”

According to Friday’s announcement, classes for W&M Law School begin Aug. 17, and classes for all undergraduates, graduate Arts & Sciences and School of Education students begin Aug. 19. The last day of classes for undergraduates and graduate Arts & Sciences students is Nov. 13 and Nov. 14 for W&M Law School. Final exams for undergraduates, graduate Arts & Sciences and W&M Law School students will take place Nov. 16-24, and Nov. 24 will also be the last day of the semester for graduate School of Education students. Graduate program dates for the School of Marine Science and Mason School of Business are expected to be finalized by June 19.

Because of the shortened semester, there will be no fall break and five extra instructional days will be added – including Saturday, evening or online sessions – as determined by the professor.

Each school will choose in-person and hybrid course options, with flexibility to ensure equity for students who may face health, home and financial challenges. ­

“We are committed to developing multiple flexible options so that no student’s path through college may be interrupted,” said Provost Peggy Agouris. “I am awed by our faculty’s fierce commitment to student learning, and we will work together with the deans to develop creative solutions to the unique challenges of these times.”

The president charged each member of the W&M community with fully prioritizing one another’s health and safety, said Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Sam Jones.

“I am grateful to our staff members, many of whom have already put that commitment into practice this summer as they performed essential duties on campus,” said Jones, who recently assumed the new position of director of W&M’s COVID-19 Coordination Team. “As more people return this fall, I know our close-knit community will take this charge to safeguard one another’s health seriously.”

Students, faculty and staff will be expected to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, stay home or out of class when sick, maintain physical distancing in public spaces and follow other basic hygiene practices. The university will provide each person with a personal protective equipment kit while classroom, learning and other university spaces will be modified to help protect the health of the community. Online training may also be required to support this effort.

“The well-being of our community is paramount,” said Rowe. “We will systematically adapt campus operations and curriculum to safeguard health. All William & Mary employees and every student choosing to attend this fall are expected to commit fully to these safeguards, out of respect for our close community of learning and work.”

Friday’s announcement follows a rapid planning process led by a presidentially appointed, multi-disciplinary Plan Ahead team in May and June 2020. The plan reflects inputs and feedback from leadership across campus, including the Board of Visitors, leaders of the faculty, staff, and student assemblies, the Emergency Management Team, the president’s Cabinet, the provost’s Council, and the Cabinet-Plus COVID-19 operations group, Rowe said. She emphasized the university is engaged in a phased-planning process. Implementation will unfold in defined phases over the rest of the summer, with regular communications as decisions are made.

“Because no university has faced such challenges before, we have set up structures to ensure that our assumptions can evolve with new data and new information, Rowe said.

Additional details about the semester will be announced in the coming weeks. Student Affairs will follow up with students and families with detailed plans for returning to campus no later than July 1. By July 1, the provost and deans will offer information on curricular matters to faculty and staff, and the chief operating officer and chief human resources officer will address operational safety aspects.

“Much work remains. We trust and empower our dedicated faculty and staff to realize this plan in ways consistent with their disciplines and schools, and with the best interests of our community in mind,” she said. “And we trust in our students. Collaborations between staff, faculty, students and our surrounding community are the superpowers that have made W&M successful in the spring. These partnerships will continue to be essential going forward.”

Planning is advancing in collaboration with other Virginia universities, the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Health and is aligned with current federal and state guidelines.

While those guidelines may change in the coming weeks and months, W&M is ready to adapt as needed, said Rowe.

“My thanks to the whole community for your patience, commitment and trust as we have worked through this planning process and as we embark upon an unprecedented year, with continuing pandemic conditions,” said Rowe.