Fall 2020 Academic Calendar

From: Provost Biermann
To: Students, Faculty, and Staff
Posted: May 21, 2020 at 8:30 a.m.

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Now that the spring 2020 semester has concluded, I want to express my deep gratitude to each and every one of you for handling the sudden change after Spring Break so effectively and well. Many people across campus — and beyond — are deeply impressed by the agility, resilience, and ingenuity that you demonstrated in shifting rapidly to remote operations and classes. Thank you.

Because our goal for the fall is to continue to provide the high-quality, personal education for which Valparaiso University is known, we want to make every effort to give you more time to prepare for next semester and the continued uncertainty it is likely to bring. To that end, we convened a group of faculty, academic staff, and administrators to anticipate different scenarios and develop a clear plan for the fall. This work is very timely, as many other universities are also developing and sharing their plans. We want our students, faculty, and staff to know what you can expect so you can plan accordingly. This email to share modifications to the academic calendar is our first step in sharing detailed information about our academic plan for the fall semester.

Our approach in developing the academic calendar for this fall was to balance the following crucial priorities:

  • Maximize as much face-to-face instruction as possible.
  • Protect to the highest degree possible the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and broader community.
  • Ensure considerable flexibility for rapid institutional responses in case of a resurgence of COVID-19.

With those goals in mind, our ad hoc planning group developed a revised academic calendar for the fall semester. We sought to achieve several outcomes in developing this schedule.

  • Conclude the fall semester before Thanksgiving. We are seeking to end the fall semester before the flu season begins in earnest. While COVID-19 clearly is not the flu, they share some similar symptoms and both illnesses can put pressure on health care systems. We believe that there is significant benefit to limiting our on-campus activities during the height of the flu season.
  • Eliminate breaks during the fall semester. We are seeking to limit travel by members of the University community, and breaks encourage individuals to travel away from campus to many destinations only to return to campus in a short time. This pattern of travel leads to strong social mixing that can be particularly concerning during the current pandemic.
  • Maintain a start date that is similar to our historical pattern.

In order to accomplish these outcomes, our schedule includes the following features, which contribute to achieving the desired outcomes.

  • A slightly shorter semester. We entertained the idea of shortening the semester by a full week, matching many of our peers, but we decided on a semester just a few days shorter than our usual practice.
  • A condensed semester. A tightened overall semester calendar supports completing the full semester with as few interruptions as possible. Of course, this feature is closely related to the elimination of breaks, which also contribute to the elimination of major travel. We understand that the elimination of breaks will create stress, but we are confident that students, faculty, and staff can work together effectively to minimize this stress.
  • Reading Day and four days for finals. To offset the lack of breaks slightly, we built in a reading day between the final class day and the start of finals. Students and faculty will then get an additional day off on the Sunday before Thanksgiving before the final two days of finals.

Thank you for your patience as we work to consider our best options for the many other issues that must be addressed around campus activities this fall. A range of communications will be forthcoming to campus constituents in the coming days and weeks regarding activities throughout the fall semester, including beginning of the academic year programming. In the meantime, please direct questions about activities this fall to your dean or supervisor, or academic advisor who will be able to address your question or route it appropriately. I look forward to welcoming you all back to campus this fall.

Sincerely,

Mark L. Biermann, Ph.D.
Provost and Executive Vice President
Valparaiso University