The upcoming fall 2020 semester comes with many changes in order to combat COVID-19 and implement safe policies. As students and staff prepare to return to campus, many policies will change in order for the semester to run smoothly. Louis Hunt, senior vice provost for Enrollment Management & Services and leader of the academic calendar task force, discussed with us the changes made to the Fall 2020 Academic Calendar.
Technician: Let’s talk a little bit about the academic calendar. How is it usually made every year?
Louis Hunt: There’s a standing university committee called the Registration, Records, and Calendar Committee, so it’s made up of faculty, staff and students. It’s assigned with people usually having a two or three-year term. With that, Student Government assigns representatives, so we have undergraduates, graduates and faculty staff.
How does the committee decide on holiday dates?
LH: Well, we connect with the university calendar. There’s an official calendar there that’s somewhat tied to the official state of North Carolina calendar. The University has a little bit of flexibility so that, sometimes, we don’t take the exact same holidays as the state government, but the University itself, HR, sort of sets the official university holidays, and we typically work around those.
What about finals? Does the committee usually schedule around that week?
LH: Yes. That’s part of the academic calendar. So this calendar committee I talked about, it established the academic calendar and makes proposals to the calendar.
Does the committee also schedule move-in dates?
LH: We work with housing, so with this calendar, there’s an official roster for that calendar. There’s also a large group of exificient people, so housing is a part of it, athletics is a part of it, parking, HR; just a whole lot of campus constituencies that either impact move-in or are affected by the student move back.
Let’s talk about the beginning of the calendar change due to COVID-19. When did you guys start talking about changing the fall 2020 calendar?
LH: Obviously it started back last spring when we had to change that calendar, and I don’t know what I thought at the time—I probably thought we’ll all be back to normal May or June, but obviously that’s not the case. So we’ve been talking about this almost since the time we’ve changed the spring calendar.
What were the initial changes the committee thought about making?
LH: Well, our concern was “when does the second wave come in North Carolina?” So if the virus had wave one, then it settled down, then a second wave came back, when would that happen, how would it impact our academic calendar and academic activities? So our goal ended up being “how can we get students back to campus? Let's keep them on campus, let’s kinda go quickly as we can before the flu season gets here before, hopefully, the second wave takes hold and then get students off campus.
Let’s talk about some of the structural changes on the calendar. Why did you guys decide to end classes on November 13?
LH: Our goal was to finish up before Thanksgiving so that we could send students home, and they could go wherever they want to go in between the terms, and that they could be home as opposed to a bunch of quick trips off-campus and back. So we took away the Labor Day holiday, we took away fall break, and we finished by the Thanksgiving holiday. Otherwise, you would have thirty thousand students, plus faculty and staff, leaving campus, going to various locations, coming back repeatedly over the term, and that was generally thought to be increasing our risks.
What were other major changes to the calendar aside from major holidays being cut?
LH: So, we started the term early. Now we’re starting the semester on Aug. 10 instead of Aug. 19, so that was a change in the calendar. It’s a change that you’ve seen around the country — a number of schools have done that. We took away those holidays like I mentioned, and then we consolidated the exam period. We moved exams blocks from being three hours to being two and a half hours.
Speaking of exams, the exam week is now a single week when compared to last semesters. How did you guys manage to schedule all of these exams in one week?
LH: We’re using four exam periods per day now, hence why we’ve shortened them to two and a half hours from three hours. A number of our peers already have two hour exams for their classes, so it’s pretty common. We’ve also known that a lot of students have a lot of time in between exams. We’ve had complaints over the years that our exam period is too long. You know, we end classes on Friday, we have a weekend, we have a full week of exams, another weekend and two more days of exams. Sometimes a student has an exam on the first Monday and then nothing until the next subsequent Tuesday. There’s not a perfect schedule here, but we think it works. Another thing we’re constrained by is the number of class meeting periods and the number of shortened minutes per credit hours. We have a set of guidelines from our accrediting agencies and also from the UNC System, so we have to meet those as well.
Reading day has been cut from the academic calendar also. Why is that?
LH: We were really trying to fit all of this in this now compressed calendar. We started out talking about having classes on Saturday and things like that, but we also wanted to give students as much of a break over the weekend as we could, because we know it’s stressful going to class, especially in this new environment. The reading day just didn’t fit well; we’ve had reading days come and go during the years; we didn’t use to have them. We added them and it really makes the calendar longer, and it makes it harder to finish at a reasonable time in December without getting too close to the holidays. This year it just didn’t fit, but the goal is to keep reading days in the future.
Has fall commencement also been cut from the calendar?
LH: Well, it’s to be announced. You know, we did not have a spring commencement, and we’re still committed to trying to do something. We’re looking at dates during the fall where we could do that because we do want to celebrate our graduates. At this point we don’t have it scheduled on the calendar, but we’re still looking for a way to make it happen. There’s a lot to be determined just dependent on how things go with the reopening. A lot of uncertainty is here, but we think we’ve put safety precautions in place in order to keep our campus safe, and if that ends up working the way we hope, then hopefully we’ll be having a fall commencement.
Professors and staff workers are reliant on the calendar and changes made to it; how much input did professors and other staff workers have in these changes?
LH: So for this fall calendar specifically, we tried to get as much input as we could, so I shared an academic calendar task force. There I have a variety of people. I’ve got people from registration and records, from housing; I’ve got a department head from industrial systems engineering who happens to be an expert in pandemics. We’ve got associate deans that we’ve been working with; we’ve been going back to representatives of the executive committee of the Faculty Senate. So there was definitely feedback that was not the same as the normal semester. Our decision period was compressed, and we had to move quickly to make these things happen. It was a different process, but I still believe it to have been an inclusive process.
For more updates on the academic calendar, visit the Student Services Center website.