Fall 2020 Course and Calendar Proposals Delayed; President, Acting Dean Respond to Faculty Questions on In-Person Teaching

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Daniel Nesbitt ’22 and Kip Lynch ’22

Managing Editor and News Editor

Trinity faculty were slated to vote on two proposals from the College’s Curriculum Committee on Wednesday, June 3 concerning the academic calendar and provisions for remote and in-person learning for the fall 2020 semester. However, the vote was delayed for a second time on Wednesday while the Committee awaits information about financial aid guidelines.

It is expected that revised motions will be considered by the faculty early next week, according to Faculty Secretary and Associate Professor of Economics Mark Stater. President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney has previously indicated that further plans for the fall semester will be announced “by mid-to-late June” according to an email sent in May.  

The delay, prompted by a lack of clarity around financial aid and its impacts on the proposals, comes as other institutions across Connecticut have already announced their academic plans for the fall semester. The University of Hartford has announced last week a shortened in-person fall term beginning on Sept. 7, Labor Day, and ending shortly before Thanksgiving, with the last several weeks after Thanksgiving held remotely. Albertus Magnus College, in New Haven, will permit students to return in August and will follow a similar schedule to the University of Hartford. Trinity’s proposed academic calendar follows a similar pattern, though allows for shortened term options for courses as well. 

The first motion, circulated to the entire faculty in late May, was introduced by the Curriculum Committee and would allow courses to be taught through remote learning or a hybrid of in-person and remote classes. The motion also outlines that the implementation of these measures and emphasizes affording instructor and departmental autonomy in determining course expectations and major requirements. In addition, the motion establishes that “if hybrid/remote courses are offered, faculty must teach the courses with a letter grade assessment.” The requirement that courses must have a letter grade assessment differs from the pass/fail standards for the spring 2020 semester passed by the faculty in late March. The motion notes that all courses must fulfill the same time requirements “whether courses are taught in an in-person or remote format.”

The second motion introduced by the Committee outlines a revised academic calendar for the 2020-2021 academic year. The proposed calendar allows for “individual faculty members” to choose “whether to offer their courses in a 10-week or 13-week format, with the class meeting times altered accordingly.” The proposal acknowledges that “some faculty members may only be able to teach online given personal health and safety needs.” 

If the Committee’s proposal were adopted, classes for the fall 2020 semester would begin on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 7) and the last day of classes would be different for 10-week and 13-week courses. For the former, classes would end Friday, Nov. 13 while for the latter, in-person classes would end Friday, Nov. 20 with two additional weeks of remote classes after a week-long Thanksgiving break. Remote final exams would take place from Dec. 15-21. The proposed calendar would also include a 10-week/13-week option for the spring 2021 semester.

The format and social distancing regulations for in-person teaching are likewise undecided, with faculty varying on whether there will be stringent or flexible requirements for opting-out of in-person teaching. Acting Dean of the Faculty Sonia Cardenas fielded questions about the proposed opt-in and opt-out requirements from the faculty while Berger-Sweeney commented separately to the concerns raised. Professor of Anthropology Jane Nadel-Klein and Associate Professor of Philosophy Kari Theurer favored the opt-in format, taking issue with the prospect of having to reveal private information to Human Resources as part of an opt-out format for in-person teaching. Berger-Sweeney, meanwhile, called for the faculty to place their trust in Human Resources. 

Brownell Professor of Philosophy Dan Lloyd stated that “we need either an ‘opt in’ or an assumption to trust us that we will only decide to teach online if we think that’s the best option for us.” Associate Professor of Psychology Dina Anselmi described the matter as a “question of process. How will decisions be made and by whom. It is not simply a matter of trust but of process.” Anselmi continued, noting that “there is not a process at present about how these decisions will be made.” In response, Berger-Sweeney stated that “there is a process. You don’t trust the process that we’ve devised with all of these committees. I have an [sic] PhD in public health. Maybe I care about [sic] more about public health guidelines than many people on this call. That is my north star.” 

Associate Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Ombudsman Shane Ewegen sought clarity on “whether information about enrollments for J-Term and Summer terms is currently available in any form” and stated that “such information would be instrumental in restructuring a curricular plan for next year.” Berger-Sweeney responded “Shane, I’m disappointed in your lack of understanding of the ambiguity of the situation. Gosh, that is what I thought philosophy is about, understanding ambiguity.” 

Other business aside from discussion included a unanimous (83-0) vote by the faculty to adopt a joint statement with the Student Government Association with regard to the George Floyd protests. The faculty also received an update from Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Angel Perez on the incoming Class of 2024. 

The Tripod spoke with Stater following the meeting, who expressed his satisfaction with the faculty’s adoption of the joint statement with student government and the opportunity for Perez.

With the administration “doing their best to meet the health and safety requirements for being able to invite students back on campus,” Stater added that social distancing on campus will also be a likely public health requirement if classes are held in in-person. On the possibility that faculty will have to petition to teach their courses online, Stater explained that it is “not yet clear how that process will work” and added that this has “led to some anxiety among the faculty.” He indicated that the faculty “desire input into this process” and added that faculty support for an opt-out system likely depends on “the nature and extent of information they would be asked to provide.”


Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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