Trinity College Faculty Approve Plan for Fall 2020 Semester; Students to Return Sept. 1, Classes Start Sept. 7

Kip Lynch ’22

News Editor

The Trinity College faculty have approved an academic calendar for the fall 2020 semester which would permit students to return to the College’s Hartford campus beginning Sept. 1, with classes starting Sept. 7. The approval from the full faculty comes after several delays and a month of negotiation between the College’s Curriculum Committee, which controls the academic calendar and methods of instruction, and the administration.

The new academic calendar will allow for 10-week and 13-week courses and include several weeks of remote instruction and final examinations at the end of the semester to account for a possible resurgence of COVID-19. Completely online courses will also be offered, with the decision to teach fully online the decision of the individual instructor.

It was not immediately clear what social distancing measures the College would put in place to facilitate in-person learning nor was there any announcement Thursday about what group of students would return to campus. Berger-Sweeney had previously indicated in a May email that any return plan would be “phased” and have “fewer students on campus in the fall.” 

President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney did note in an email Friday morning that the College’s reopening plans have not been finalized but will “will be flexible to accommodate a variety of needs and conditions” and will aim to “reduce the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19 on our campus.”

The approved motion outlines the academic calendar for the 2020-2021 year and allows for faculty members to offer their courses in a 10-week or 13-week in-person format. Classes for the fall 2020 semester would begin on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 7) while the last day of classes would vary. 10-week courses would end on Friday, Nov. 13 while in-person classes would end on Friday, Nov. 20 for 13-week courses, with two additional weeks of remote classes after a week-long Thanksgiving break. Remote final exams would take place from Dec. 15-21. The calendar also includes a 10-week and 13-week option for the spring 2021 semester.

Berger-Sweeney also indicated that there will also be an optional January term extending for 5 weeks and taught remotely from Jan. 5-Feb. 5, a spring term similar to the fall that would begin remotely in February and end May 14, and a summer term for 5 weeks taught in-person from June 1-July 1.

Associate Professor of Engineering J. Harry Blaise questioned why the entire faculty was voting to approve the academic calendar, a decision normally ratified by the Curriculum Committee. He also further questioned why Trinity was waiting until Sept. 1 when other schools such as Yale and the University of Connecticut have released plans permitting students to move in on Aug. 24. Associate Professor of Theater and Dance and incoming Associate Academic Dean Mitchell Polin noted that with the calendar substantially changed from its normal course, the Curriculum Committee desired faculty input and approval. 

Berger-Sweeney added that although other institutions are starting at different times, we “chose the dates that were best suited to us.” Berger-Sweeney also indicated that the administration was open to accommodating what the faculty chose so long as Connecticut is open and all other public health measures are met. Professor of English David Rosen and Polin both noted that the Curriculum Committee developed its calendar in line with the reopening guidelines issued by Governor Ned Lamont. Further, with faculty members informing the Curriculum Committee about their lack of excitement over beginning in August, Rosen and Polin noted that the committee settled on a 10/13-week calendar. Both also noted their concern that any changes by the faculty may impact the daily schedule for students and rush the College’s preparations for students returning to campus. While some faculty voiced their preference for increased flexibility by moving the College’s move-in date earlier, others sought the stability of an approved calendar in the midst of great uncertainty. The motion passed 135 to 5. 

The faculty also passed a separation motion brought by the Curriculum Committee which allows for courses to be taught through either remote classes or a hybrid of in-person and remote teaching. It also outlines the implementation of these measures while emphasizing instructor and department autonomy in determining course expectations and major requirements. Professor of Language and Culture Studies Dario Del Puppo requested clarification on a portion of the motion which states that faculty will “ensure that students enrolled in a course do not lack the resources necessary to complete the course,” asking whether the college has specified on how the faculty will do this. Polin responded that the College has done so this past semester. He elaborated, stating that a “very small number of students were in that situation and all were assisted to the extent that they were able to participate and complete the course.” The motion passed 97 to 3.

In response to conflicts with the administration over the prospect of Human Resources determining whether faculty could teach online, a separate motion was proposed that states “During the Fall 2020 semester only, individual members of the Faculty will have the opportunity to choose whether to teach in-person on campus or remotely. Faculty choosing to teach remotely will inform the Chair of the decision.” Focusing on contingent and untenured faculty, Professor of Anthropology Jane Nadel discussed her view that the status of Human Resources was ambiguous, questioning whether HR was “empowered to overrule the faculty or a dean.” Associate Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Casserly questioned whether the faculty had any power in passing this motion with others responding that it was important for the faculty to take a position. In response to Associate Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Ombudsman Shane Ewegen’s question over whether the administration would deny a faculty member’s petition, Acting Dean of the Faculty Sonia Cardenas stated that “the administration would not deny a faculty member’s decision to teach off-campus.” The motion passed 99 to 13. 

The Tripod spoke with Faculty Secretary and Associate Professor of Economics Mark Stater following the meeting, where he expressed contentment with the motions passed, adding that they “allow the faculty member to take into assessment their own circumstances and make a decision on what is best to do.” On the need for a contingency plan in the event of a second wave of coronavirus in the fall, Stater stated that he was “not sure if it’s necessary to state that explicitly now.” He expressed his faith in the College administration to come up with a plan given that the College now has experience transitioning to online courses. 

There have also been no announcements regarding the College’s study away programs, though Berger-Sweeney did announce a new partnership with Fudan University in Shanghai geared toward the international students from China who may not be able to return to the United States. The program, referred to by Berger-Sweeney as a “special semester in Shanghai,” would offer “a mix of small seminars and introductory courses taught by both Fudan and Trinity faculty members.”

The program appears tailored to first-year Chinese students and her email did not provide specifics for other international students who may face difficulty in returning to the United States. Trinity has maintained a partnership with Fudan University since 2012. The program has previously seen as an exchange between Trinity and Fudan faculty as well as students for a semester or year abroad. The program has remained small, typically sending about five Trinity students a term.

1 Comment

  1. I studied abroad at Trinity’s program in Shanghai (and used to write news articles for the Tripod!) and wanted to add my thoughts, as the message about Fudan particularly interested me in President Berger-Sweeney’s email. The following article was sent to me by a friend from Shanghai who attended Fudan for her four years of college: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Chinese-University-Deletes/247743. The article details Fudan’s recent decision to remove “freedom of thought” and add in the promotion of “Xi Jinping Thought” to the school charter. Also, I have previously written about the academic experience I had at Fudan in the Tripod: http://tripod.domains.trincoll.edu/opinion/its-not-worth-it-dont-bother-studying-abroad/. The classes I took there in fall 2018 are very different from President Berger-Sweeney’s description of this new program. I absolutely loved my time in China during my junior year, but I seriously doubt, based on my own experiences, that Fudan would be able to replicate the first-semester, first-year experience at Trinity. Those students might be better off just waiting a semester, saving their tuition dollars, and enrolling in the spring.

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