‘The fall semester will be about maximum flexibility’
William & Mary recently released a series of updates about its plans for the fall semester. The updates contain new details about remote learning and work, physical distancing and safety measures, fall course offerings and planned use of space on campus.
The university announced June 12 that students’ return to campus will be a phased process, beginning Aug. 12, to allow for the implementation of testing and possible quarantine. The semester will not include a fall break and will end before Thanksgiving.
“The fall semester will be about maximum flexibility,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “Flexibility is built into the design, because uncertainty is built in to our reality.”
“We will be here for our community,” she added. “William & Mary is going to adapt as we need to and ensure our students maintain momentum and that we continue to create the close connections between teachers and learners our university is known for.”
Testing and wellness
A program is under development that will require all students to be tested for COVID-19 on arrival and at various times throughout the semester, in order to allow for immediate isolation of those who test positive for infection. W&M will be significantly increasing its capacity to provide access to health care on campus, so symptomatic students may be treated through the Student Health Center.
The testing program is intended for all students, on-campus, off-campus, undergraduates and graduates. Employees will also have access to optional testing, partially subsidized by the university. At-will testing will be offered to students as they leave campus in November, as an additional precaution for their home communities.
“W&M is part of an active effort to partner with the Commonwealth on a testing network anchored in our three VA university medical centers: VCU, UVA and VT,” Sam Jones, director of the university’s COVID-19 Response Team, said in a message to faculty, staff and students June 26. “Our testing and other public health protocols are based on ongoing epidemiological modeling with those centers.”
Other safety measures include wellness kits for students, faculty and staff consisting of washable masks, hand sanitizer and wipes. Additional masks and face shields will be available for employees, as face coverings will be required for all public and communal spaces on campus.
A symptom-tracking app will be provided to all students, faculty and staff, allowing for a daily prompt for symptom assessment. Touchless temperature stations and 200 hand sanitizer stations will be placed strategically around campus. The full list of campus health protocols is available on the university’s Path Forward website.
Before the end of the spring semester, Rowe initiated a rapid planning process for the fall, led by a presidentially appointed, multi-disciplinary Plan Ahead team. The Path Forward incorporates feedback from key leadership: the Board of Visitors; leaders of the faculty, staff and student assemblies; the Emergency Management team and the president’s Cabinet.
In a message to all faculty Tuesday, Provost Peggy Agouris announced the university is solidifying fall course delivery plans, stressing that maximum flexibility will be crucial throughout the fall. Almost all courses will be “blended” to some degree, with students learning in real time in-person and via technology, she said. Faculty were advised to prepare classes in a way that makes it possible to switch to fully remote learning on short notice, in the event Virginia public health guidelines require it.
“So much work is underway in both the academic units as well as the Plan Ahead Team to ensure that our university is prepared for Fall 2020,” Agouris said. “I am grateful to you all for your ongoing commitment to our students, their families and our educational mission. Your continued flexibility, creativity and patience as we navigate amid unprecedented uncertainties will be invaluable to our collective success.”
By mid-July, all university courses will be assigned a course delivery category that will describe the mode of instruction. The information will be available to students in Banner. Students will be able to craft a fully remote schedule for the fall semester, if that is their preference. Continuing students can make changes to their schedule based on updated course offerings and modes of instruction starting in early August.
Classrooms will look different this fall, as both indoor and outdoor space on campus is repurposed for instruction. The university is conducting an inventory of extremely large non-academic spaces available for instruction in the fall, so that physical distancing of eight feet on center can be maintained for up to 80 students in one room.
“We recognize that this fall semester will feel very different for us all,” Ginger Ambler, vice president for Student Affairs said in a message to students. “Above all, be assured that your alma mater is committed to your well-being, and to offering an educational experience that enables you to do your best work while sustaining momentum to your degree.”
In message to all university employees, Chief Human Resources Officer Christopher Lee and Chief Operating Officer Amy Sebring announced that the university will continue to encourage employees to work from home through Dec. 31, for all functional areas that do not require on-campus activity. All departments that are currently working remotely should continue to do so through July 31.
During the month of July, the President’s Cabinet will identify departments that have core on-campus functions, based on the type of work they perform and the constituents they serve. Cabinet members will work with Human Resources to outline specific plans to define and adjust modes of work for each department or unit. Those decisions will be shared by managers the week of July 20, Lee and Sebring said.
Partially subsidized, at-will COVID-19 testing will be available to employees who would like to be tested, regardless of whether they are symptomatic. All employees will be eligible to receive testing, subject to availability, at one or more designated health care locations in the Williamsburg area.
If an employee needs to take leave, Human Resources will identify whether the employee is eligible for the Commonwealth’s Public Health Emergency Leave or options provided through the federal Families First CoronaVirus Response Act. An employee may be eligible for the university or state’s sickness and disability programs, earned sick leave, annual leave or other leave statuses.
“As we gear up for the fall semester, we understand that the return to classes this fall will be different,” Lee and Sebring said. “Fall 2020 brings the challenge of planning while still in the midst of a public health crisis and the uncertainty this entails.
“William & Mary has an obligation to meet our mission – which emphasizes the value of close learning relationships and of convening in person – to ensure that our students maintain momentum and complete their education. William & Mary’s first priority is to support our students, faculty and staff as we navigate this challenge together.”
The William & Mary community is encouraged to continue to check www.wm.edu/pathforward for additional information and to submit questions, concerns and feedback.