The MU Faculty Council will hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss a revised calendar for the upcoming academic year that would start classes Aug. 12.
The proposal was shared with the MU community in an email sent Wednesday by Interim MU Chancellor and UM System President Mun Choi. The UM System Board of Curators would have to approve the change for it to take effect.
MU has yet to make an official announcement on what fall classes will look like after moving all instruction online in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Choi has said in-person, online or a mix of both is possible.
However, on Twitter early Wednesday, the council announced it was considering a plan in which the semester would start and end earlier, with final exams taking place online after Thanksgiving.
If the proposed calendar is adopted, classes would begin Aug. 12, about a week and a half earlier than the Aug. 24 start date on the official academic calendar.
The Labor Day holiday and fall break would be canceled in an attempt to limit student travel.
The final day of the semester would be Nov. 20 instead of Dec. 18, and students would stay at home post-Thanksgiving to take their finals online. The last day of final exams would be Dec. 4. It is unclear how ending in-person classes in November would impact MU’s December graduation.
Faculty Council chair Clark Peters said the goal of Thursday’s meeting is to come up with a tentative plan to present to the curators at their next meeting this month for approval. He said he has been collecting comments on the plan from faculty and recognizes it may have to change as new information is released.
“We’re living in a pandemic, so we could approve something, and then, another week, something surprising happens, good or bad,” Peters said. “We are planning based on imperfect information.”
The plan is similar to those being put in place by universities across the country.
The University of Notre Dame was one of the first U.S. colleges to announce it was committed to holding in-person classes in the fall. In an online letter, the university’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, announced Notre Dame would start the fall semester the week of Aug. 10, two weeks earlier than anticipated. The plan was conceived in consultation with faculty, infectious disease experts and medical specialists, Jenkins said in the letter.
The University of South Carolina announced a revised fall calendar that included early semester start and end dates. It will expand the online course catalog for students who wish to remain fully online. In addition, the university announced a bevy of new safety measures that will be put in place in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. The measures include providing a reusable face mask to all faculty and students and requiring that masks be worn at all times when social distancing cannot take place, according to an online announcement.
Peters said MU will take similar precautions. It is investigating using traditionally non-academic spaces, such as MizzouRec, to hold classes in an attempt to spread students farther apart.
“Large lectures just can’t happen,” Peter said.
The hope is to sequester students on campus before there is a second wave of outbreaks. By ending the semester early and extending the winter break period, universities also hope to keep students at home for the predicted wave of winter outbreaks.
On Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its list of considerations for institutions of higher education that plan to operate amid COVID-19. They include limiting large in-person classes and events, operating residence halls at zero or low capacity, requiring face coverings in public spaces and implementing a thorough disinfecting routine for university buildings.
Universities in Missouri are adopting similar plans.
William Woods University in Fulton announced Wednesday in a news release that it would revise its academic calendar to better align with public health guidelines. In-person fall classes will now start Aug. 17, a week earlier than scheduled, and end before Thanksgiving break, with final exams taking place online. William Woods plans to hold class on Labor Day and cancel its fall break in order to have the required number of instructional days, according to the release.
“By starting and ending our fall semester one week earlier, we increase the chance we can hold in-person instruction before any potential resurgence of positive COVID-19 cases,” William Woods President Jahnae Barnett said in the release. “We would also decrease the risk of students going home during breaks and then returning to campus, and potentially spreading the virus.”
Last week, Columbia College announced it planned to resume in-person classes Aug. 31. Students would go home after Thanksgiving to take online finals; however, the local campus still plans to have an in-person commencement ceremony in December.