By Victoria Gill-Gomez and Erica Quinones
After a summer of deliberation, the Contingency Planning Group alerted the Washington College community of the decision to have the Fall 2020 semester be completely remote through an Aug. 3 email.
“This feels like a setback, but it does not need to be. While it will be a fall semester different from any other you will have or have had at Washington College, we are completely committed to making it every bit as rich, rewarding, and exciting as you expect. It may well be one that you will look back on as fuller and more intense than any other in terms of your academic focus and interactions with your professors and peers. This is an extraordinary time in our history, and we are built for this,” WC President Kurt Landgraf said.
The College originally planned on returning to campus in a modified manner for the fall semester. Those modifications included limiting housing on campus, suspending the assignment of roommates, approving extended off-campus and commuting protocols, enacting hybrid classes, offering consistent COVID testing, enforcing mask-wearing and social distancing requirements, and other robust health policies.
However, according to an August email from the President’s Office under the administration of President Landgraf, the decision was made to suspend on-campus efforts and move entirely online.
“WC’s highest priorities are protecting the health and safety of our community and providing an extraordinary academic experience,” the email said.
The decision was made due to several factors, including the upwards COVID-19 infection trends in the United States, Maryland, and Kent County.
“I was really heartened by this whole process for contingency planning and us coming to this really touching conclusion that the best thing, the safest thing, the thing that most honored everyone’s health and safety was to not open for in-person classes. I am really grateful…for [the College] listening and understanding and supporting that,” Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sarah Feyerherm said.
All courses are being offered either synchronous or asynchronous, depending on the instructor. While the move to a full-online format came last minute, the faculty participated in workshops throughout the summer which prepared them for teaching online.
Dean Feyerherm said that planning for a hybrid learning experience was difficult and time consuming for faculty. She said that this model of having half the class meet in person at one time, and virtually for the other is like teaching two different classes at once. They decided that a hybrid-model was “un-Washington College.”
Because the semester is now beginning with the expectation of online learning, all courses that use letter grading will continue to do so. This contrasts Spring 2020 in which all courses were made Pass/Fail to alleviate students’ stress.
In addition to remote learning, the College decided to have the majority of students stay home or live off-campus for the semester. The only students living on campus—around 40 individuals—are those who cannot return home for a variety of reasons, such as being an international student.
Room and board charges for students who previously planned to stay on campus were reversed shortly after the Aug. 3 email, and the payment period for student bills was extended to Aug. 24, according to an Aug. 7 email from Accounts Receivable.
The College also announced that they reversed the tuition rate change for the 2020-2021 academic year and decreased student fees.
For students living on campus, new restrictions were put on their guest rights. Until further notice, students are not permitted to have guests visit or stay overnight with them in campus residence halls. These guests include anyone who does not reside in the specific hall or in the suite of the host, according to Dean Feyerherm.
Other students given access to campus include those who require access to campus for graduation, such as completing Senior Capstone Experience-related projects in studio arts or natural science lab spaces. However, the majority of campus buildings will remain inaccessible.
The bookstore and Central Services will remain open for on-campus students, although they will operate in limited capacities. According to an Aug. 12 email from Central Services Assistant Director Katherin Brilz, Central Services will be open on Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. They ask that on-campus students not come to retrieve mail until they receive an email from Central Services.
Other spaces open to on-campus students include Hodson Hall Commons in which meals are served through the down-stairs commerce area, similar to Spring 2020’s operations.
The Benjamin A. Johnson Fitness Center and the Eugene B. Casey Swim Center will also be opened on a limited schedule to students through sign up only.
Clifton Miller Library will be completely closed, but resources continue to be available to students through digital meetings with librarians and pick-up options.
Dean Feyerherm said that the College is considering opening waterfront facilities for recreation.
There is hope for a spring semester return as the Contingency Planning Group continues to meet weekly. By looking at other institutional models that prove favorable, WC will create the best plan for the spring, according to Dean Feyerherm.
“This was a real gut-check for the College to ask what we believe in. We went with our values, and I think that’s really amazing for Washington College to have done,” Dean Feyerherm said.