The MU Faculty Council rejected a proposal Thursday to start MU early this fall but did back a plan to move classes online after Thanksgiving.
Under the proposal, classes would have started Aug. 12 instead of Aug. 24 and met on Labor Day. That would have meant 15 uninterrupted weeks of coursework, which math professor Dan Edidin called “a death march to Thanksgiving.”
Although the council roundly voted down the proposal 23 -6, it approved a resolution to recommend that classes and final exams go online after Thanksgiving break, which ends Nov. 29. The recommendation will be made to the UM System Board of Curators when it meets June 18-19.
The meeting was called specifically to discuss the proposed changes to the fall academic calendar meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 and maximize the amount of face-to-face instruction. Colleges and universities across the country have adopted similar plans.
Early in the meeting, some council members said they felt frustrated that they were being asked to approve such significant changes so quickly, and they wanted to come back at a later date with a revised proposal. The proposal was made public in an email Wednesday, and council members were informed by email Monday.
Council chair Clark Peters said he would collect additional comments from faculty over the next week to determine whether it would be necessary for the group to meet again to discuss potential schedule changes.
While moving instruction online post-Thanksgiving received wide support from the council, there was pushback on the early start date.
“Students are going to get very tired,” fiscal affairs chair and political science professor Jay Dow said, referring to the 15-week stretch.
Other logistical obstacles were raised, including start dates for faculty offer letters, international student visas, bumping into summer classes and move-in dates for on- and off-campus housing. Tina Bloom, associate professor of nursing, was among those concerned that many off-campus apartment complexes would not allow students to move in until after Aug. 12.
However, Peters said those in charge of MU’s Residential Life, such as Vice Provost for Student Affairs Bill Stackman, favor the early start date.
Under the proposal, finals would have started immediately after Thanksgiving break. Some council members thought it was wrong to force students to study and prepare over the holiday week.
Anand Chandrasekhar, a biological sciences professor, suggested moving all classes online after Thanksgiving to give students a week of instructional time to study and troubleshoot potential technical issues. Others quickly supported that idea.
A motion to make no change to the calendar except to hold classes on Labor Day was considered toward the end of the meeting in an effort to encourage students to stay on campus — again, with COVID-19 in mind. The motion was eventually withdrawn as members concluded it would be difficult to keep students on campus that weekend regardless of whether Monday classes were held.
Council vice chair John Middleton, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, said that from a public health perspective, he was not overly concerned about students going home for Labor Day.
“It’s a weekend — we’ve got lots of weekends in the semester. One more day is not going to make a difference,” Middleton said. “From a disease transmission standpoint, the biggest rise in disease you are going to see is when they arrive on campus from all over the country.”
Despite making no official changes to the academic calendar, Peters said it is still clear this school year will look very different for MU students. Changes will probably have to be made to large annual traditions such as Greek life recruitment and the freshman tiger walk through the MU Columns.
“We all remember what that first day on campus looks like,” Peters said. “This generation is going to have a very different experience.”