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UMass, Hampshire College to start fall semester early

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) campus COURTESY PHOTO



Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

AMHERST — Students at the University of Massachusetts and Hampshire College will start and end their fall semesters early as part of efforts to resume on-campus instruction in the fall.

Under the revised UMass calendar, classes will begin on Aug. 24, rather than their usual start time in early September. Students will have class on Labor Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Veterans Day, when they would normally have those days off, and classes will conclude on Nov. 20. After Thanksgiving break, students will not return to campus, instead taking their final exams remotely between Nov. 30-Dec. 4.

The plan is part of the university’s efforts to implement a combination of remote and in-person instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The updated calendar “is designed to help minimize a potential second round of the virus in the late fall, which is a concern of public health authorities,” according to campus spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.

“The earlier start and related earlier conclusion of classes, in addition to conducting classes on holidays, will minimize travel,” Blaguszewski said. “That is especially notable for the Thanksgiving recess, when students typically return from all parts of the state and the nation, potentially increasing their exposure to COVID-19 and increasing the risk of spread on campus if they returned.”

The college has not planned any changes to the spring 2021 semester but will “have to see how the fall semester proceeds, knowing that the situation is fluid,” Blaguszewski added. How the fall semester schedule will affect athletics is also still “in process,” he said.

Hampshire College

At Hampshire, the fall semester will begin Aug. 25 and end Nov. 20. Students will not have an extended fall break and “will be expected to remain until the end of classes,” according to Djola Branner, vice president for Student Affairs, and Christoph Cox, incoming dean of faculty and vice president for Academic Affairs.

The fall semester has not been shortened, but compressed through eliminating breaks, Branner and Cox wrote in an announcement on Thursday. Students can stay on campus through early December “as long as they remain on campus during the Thanksgiving break,” they said. Those who do leave campus for Thanksgiving break cannot return until the spring semester.

Hampshire does not give final exams, but campus spokesman John Courtmanche said the college expects some students who leave for Thanksgiving break will submit final projects or papers remotely in December.

Unlike UMass, which does not plan for all students to return in the fall, Hampshire officials “expect to welcome all of our new and returning students to campus,” Branner and Cox wrote.

All students will have a single dorm room spread across campus residence halls, which will keep these areas below 50% capacity, they said. Additionally, “the number of students sharing any bathroom will be strictly limited.”

The collage also has plans for “ample, same-day symptomatic COVID-19 testing available on campus,” screening requirements, and designated isolation or quarantine housing, according to Branner and Cox.

Classes will be scheduled to reduce traffic in academic buildings and held in spaces that allow proper social distancing, and other guidelines such as wearing face coverings will be implemented. All classes “will be designed to include online options to accommodate changing circumstances without disrupting the academic experience, and to accommodate the use of spaces and equipment in areas with limited capacity for social distancing,” Branner and Cox wrote.

Additionally, “student activities and co-curricular opportunities are being thoughtfully designed to support vibrant programs while respecting limits on gathering sizes and space usage,” they noted.

Food services may offer in-person dining, meal pick-up or delivery depending on state guidelines in the fall.

“Making sure every student has the space to maintain social distancing in their daily living situation is the minimum expectation any college should have in order to open — we will more than meet that standard,” Branner and Cox wrote.

Nationwide, local updates

Numerous colleges around the country have shifted their academic calendars in an attempt to increase on-campus safety during the pandemic. The University of Notre Dame, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are among other colleges and universities to recently announce that they will send students home before Thanksgiving break.

Locally, Mount Holyoke College plans to divide its academic semesters into two 7½-week sessions for the 2020-2021 academic year, though more details about when those sessions will start and end have yet to be released.

Most area colleges have said that they will announce their complete plans for the fall semester in late June or early July. While Hampshire College intends to resume in-person classes and residential living in the fall, others, like UMass, are grappling with in-person versus remote instruction. UMass has said that its full fall 2020 plan, which will include details about on-campus housing and information for students living off-campus whose leases do not start until September, will be released by June 30.

Amherst College President Biddy Martin and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein announced last week that they are “more confident than we have been at any other point that we will be able to bring students to campus” due to increased testing capabilities and social distancing measures, though they “do not yet know how many” students they can host. Faculty will have the choice of resuming their classes on-campus, teaching remotely or using a combination of the two methods, Martin and Epstein wrote.

Smith College President Kathleen McCartney said in May that college officials are “hoping for an in-person fall semester” but “continue to develop contingency plans for a range of approaches to our curriculum.”

Holyoke Community College has leaned in a different direction, with president Christina Royal stating that “with very few exceptions, all courses in the fall 2020 semester will be taught in an online or remote modality.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.