On October 8th, 2020 the department of Academic Affairs sent the following letter to Provost Agouris. In it, they request that the University deliver only asynchronous classes on November 3rd, 2020 with the intent to host no classes on Election Day in future years. Provost Agouris was supportive of the request as were Deans of all 6 schools. They have forwarded the request on to faculty; we encourage you to have an open dialogue with your professors about it.
Letter to the Provost
In one month, millions of Americans will cast their ballot in perhaps the most consequential election in the history of our country. Many of these voters will be students.
We write to you urgently, on behalf of the students we represent, on how we can make it easier for William & Mary students to vote next month by delivering only asynchronous classes on Election Day.
Voting reminds us of our history as we simultaneously attempt to shape our future: it is the way we make change and the way we make our voice heard. Our institution prides itself in our commitment to service and in our ability to help students become independent thinkers; intellectually curious; and above all, civic-minded, principled, and compassionate global citizens.
William & Mary, with its unique history of educating the founders of our country’s democracy who established the right to vote, has an unparalleled responsibility to uphold the importance of these practices.
Our students have a powerful legacy in the fight for voting rights. In 2004, the ACLU represented William & Mary students Luther Lowe and Serene Alami after the registrar prevented them from registering to vote in Williamsburg. The Virginia Supreme Court overturned their denial, granting them the right to vote with their campus address. Serene and Luther made it easier for students across the state to vote in their campus communities.
Over the past few months, we have seen the incredible and inspiring ways that our students have represented our institution’s Vision, Mission and Values. Our students have organized protests, worked hard to make their voices heard, and participated in their communities and in the world.
The 2019 National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement report by Tufts University showed that 53.7% of W&M students voted in the 2018 midterm elections and that in 2014 over 71% of the students who voted did so by voting in-person on election day.
We write to you to request that the university deliver only asynchronous classes on November 3rd, 2020.
Additionally, we request that the university seriously look into not holding classes on Election Day in future semesters.
This is something that students want. As you know, The No Class on Election Day Resolution (SR 328-006) introduced by Senator Patrick Salsburg (‘21) and Senator Owen Williams (‘23) last month passed the Student Assembly with an overwhelming majority.
We recognize the challenges that come with this decision. As this is a compressed semester, we are not asking for classes to be canceled for Fall 2020 but instead to be delivered asynchronously; however, in future semesters the university must seriously explore not holding classes on Election Day. Students have overwhelmingly called for this.
We are not content until 100% of students are voting in elections. Not holding classes on election day will encourage more students to vote. We must, at a minimum, ensure that a busy academic schedule is not an obstacle to voting.
COVID-19 has added to the urgency for as much flexibility on election day as possible. The pandemic has cast doubt on mail-in ballots, and the United States Postal Service has warned that in Virginia, it cannot guarantee all ballots will arrive in time and has encouraged people to vote in-person if possible. The registrar has recommended dropping off absentee ballots in person. Additionally, Fall Break is often used by students to participate in early voting. The cancellation of Fall Break means more students will be voting in-person on November 3rd. The move to asynchronous classes will allow students the flexibility to vote in-person on election day.
This decision will send a powerful and important message that our institution continues to prioritize the voices of our students in shaping the future of our country. It portrays the kind of message we aim to send to our students, faculty, staff, the state, and the entire country: William & Mary actively values its students' right to vote and the sanctity of civic participation.
We hope to hear from you soon.
Raman Khanna (’21)
Secretary of Academic Affairs
Mary Kardos (‘22)
Undersecretary of Academic Affairs
Sam Rofman (‘22)
Undersecretary of Academic Affairs