A Look Ahead to Spring 2021 and Important Proposed Changes to the Academic Calendar
Date: October 20, 2020
TO: The NYU Community
FROM: President Andrew Hamilton and Provost Katherine Fleming
Mid-October may seem early to be thinking about the spring semester. However, we are aware that members of the NYU community are wondering what to expect even now.
Months ago, when we first started planning for 2020-2021, we hoped there might be a vaccine or a therapeutic widely available by the beginning of the spring semester that would diminish the impact of COVID-19 and allow us to resume some of our prior activities. Our hopes notwithstanding, that appears unlikely.
Nevertheless, thanks to the tireless efforts of our faculty, the dedication of so many of our administrators and staff, and the fortitude of our students, the fall semester has been notably successful in the face of steep challenges. It has taught us important lessons for the spring: that, with due care, we can offer an energetic and engaging mix of in-person and remote instruction and support the academic goals of both our students studying here and remotely. That we can carry on our research program, reach out to give students a robust experience online and (within strict safety guidelines) in-person, achieve praiseworthy compliance with our safety protocols, and avoid outbreaks of COVID-19.
So, barring any surprises, we expect the spring semester to look very similar to the fall semester for faculty, for administrators and staff, and for students, whether they are in our housing, living off-campus, or attending class or working remotely.
Semester Schedule and Spring Break
In early November, the Senate Executive Committee (SEC) will formally present to the Senate changes to the Spring semester’s schedule.
The original schedule calls for J-term classes to be scheduled for January 4-22, 2021. Spring semester classes were scheduled to begin on January 25, spring recess was scheduled for March 15-21, and classes were scheduled to end on May 10, ahead of final examinations.
Pending approval by the entire Senate, the following changes will be made to the calendar for the remainder of this academic year:
- Opening the residence halls early sometime during the week of January 10 (we will follow up with a specific date) – to allow for a two-week quarantine period for those coming from hotspot states or international destinations
- Commencing spring classes later than currently scheduled: Thursday, January 28
- Suspending the spring break week for 2021
- Adding two long weekends to the calendar for 2021 — Friday, March 19 and Monday, April 19 (in addition to the existing President’s Day Weekend, Monday February 15)
- Adding a “Legislative Day” (a Thursday on which Monday classes would meet) to the calendar on Thursday, May 6
- Ending spring classes as scheduled on May 10, to be followed by the reading period and final examinations
The Senate Executive Committee and the Senate Academic Affairs Committee (both of which include the elected leadership of the student, faculty, and staff councils) based their decisions concerning the elimination of spring break on guidance from medical leadership and external experts, and took account of similar actions being taken by other institutions for reasons that are relevant to our circumstances.
In making this recommendation, a number of health issues were considered — the need to once again begin the semester with a two-week quarantine period for those coming from hotspot states or international destinations, the timing of flu season, the dangers and logistical challenges presented by spring break travel. The conclusion: dispersing throughout the country and then returning in less than 10 days would represent a major public health hazard involving heightened risk of bringing the coronavirus to campus and the surrounding community; significant consequences for at-risk populations; the requirement for many to once again undergo a two-week quarantine period (meaning 28 days of quarantine in a 2 ½ month period for some students); and a possible spike in cases could trigger a pivot to all-remote instruction and other restrictions on campus activities.
We recognize that a semester that goes from as early as mid-January for some students to mid-May without any break would be a slog; accordingly, the Senate Executive Committee adopted the Student Senators Council’s recommendation to designate two long weekends during the semester (in addition to Presidents Weekend) to give everyone a bit of a breather. And we will be particularly attentive throughout the spring semester to issues of wellness, self-care, and stress relief for students, faculty, and staff.
Health and Safety
Our decision-making will continue to be principally guided by health and safety. In spring 2021, we will continue to have a robust program of regular testing, scrutiny of results for patterns, and contact tracing.
NYU community members have been commendable about observing rules regarding mask wearing, physical distancing, avoiding crowds, hand hygiene, participating in testing, and using the Daily Screener; that behavior has greatly contributed to the success of the fall semester so far. It will be vital for everyone to maintain that behavior and not become complacent in the spring.
Curriculum and Classes
Flexibility will continue to be an important feature of our academic program. Classes will continue to be a mix of in-person, blended, and remote classes. The Provost’s Office and the Deans’ Offices will be working with faculty to offer students courses in the spring that are intellectually vibrant and that spark a sense of connection. Academic advisors will work with students to choose the courses that suit them best, based on their location and whether they are in-person or remote.
As Dr. Ciotoli’s update to the community noted, there has been little or no evidence of classroom-related transmission of coronavirus. As a result, we hope that more faculty will consider offering in-person classes. However, we will leave that to the discretion of faculty members and will have in place for them a process for accommodations and exceptions.
Ramping up scholarly research as we emerged from the “NY PAUSE” restrictions was an early and a high priority over the summer. We will emphasize maintaining — and, if possible, expanding — research in the spring.
Study Away and Go Local
COVID-19-related travel restrictions persist. Study Away will be suspended this spring, though we will continue to offer our Go Local program at our Global locations.
Lesson Learned - Enhancements to Student Life for Those on Campus and Those Studying Remotely
By and large, students have indicated that they are happy with the decisions they made for the fall semester, and are overwhelmingly planning on returning for the spring semester. The many health and wellness programs that NYU has offered —and mindfulness and yoga programs in particular — have been especially popular. And the continuation of counseling services through virtual appointments seems to have served the needs of our students well.
On campus, thanks to everyone’s strong commitment to NYU’s public health protocols, as the semester has progressed we have been able to open select common spaces in our residence halls, designate additional drop-in and reservable study spaces throughout the campus and provide quick-stop places for students to eat their meals. Bobst and Dibner are now open over the weekend for further individualized study. We are constantly re-evaluating the ways our students can safely engage with each other and the life of the campus, including the possibility of opening more common spaces in the residence halls, organizing small gatherings, providing access to our athletic facilities and finding creative ways for our clubs, religious communities and after class activities to connect and thrive, with the goal of maintaining our health and safety rules.
And the well-being of the many NYU students who have opted to study remotely this semester is very much in our thoughts, too. We continue to work on issues of importance to them — enhancing the remote classroom experience; promoting community-building and a sense of connection; and addressing the full range of needed resources for self-care and wellness wherever they find themselves.
Employees and Teleworking
Reducing density on campus has been an important element in our NYU Returns strategy. For the time being, those employees who are teleworking full- or part-time should plan on continuing to do so in the spring.
We LOVE commencement; we know it is important to you, too.
Last spring, we projected that conditions would be safe enough for the 2021 Commencement to go forward (as well as the commencement we want to hold for the Class of 2020, who missed having an in-person ceremony). As of now, things remain uncertain, with major gatherings either prohibited or at least the object of fierce disapproval. We are conscious that graduating students and families wish to make plans; we are looking at options, and will be communicating with you about Commencement later.