On Friday, Oct. 9, the Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President addressed the Gonzaga University community in an email regarding an updated academic calendar for the spring 2021 semester, announcing that modifications were made to the academic calendar to begin the spring semester on Jan. 19, pushing the start date back a week, and to remove spring break altogether.
The decision to add these modifications to the 2021 spring academic calendar was made by the Academic Council, a council that is comprised of faculty, students and staff, in light of the continued challenges related to COVID-19, the email said.
This year’s Academic Council was composed of faculty, senior-level administrators leaders who plan the academic calendar, Student Affairs, Faculty Senate and the President’s Cabinet, said Vice Provost of student affairs Kent Porterfield and Provost and Senior Vice President Deena González, in an email.
These modifications to the calendar left many faculty, students and their parents questioning the university’s timeline for this decision.
“The review of the Spring 2021 calendar revision commenced on September 28, with the Policy and Planning Committee of the Academic Council, per established protocols," said Porterfield and González, in an email. "The decision was announced the day after the Provost and Senior Vice President received a unanimous recommendation from members of the Academic Council. The Council voted as follows: 18 “yes,” 0 “no” and 5 “no response”, the non-responses were counted as abstentions.”
The two major decisions made for the 2021 spring semester were to delay the start of the spring semester until Jan. 19 and to cancel the annual week-long spring break that typically happens in March.
“The decision to delay the start of the spring semester is, in part, to allow students more time to re-group and to give faculty a little more time to prepare for any changes they need to make to their spring courses,” said Porterfield and González in an email.
To an unfavorable response, the decision to cancel spring break was intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19 by lessening travel from Spokane to other locations and from other locations back to Spokane, a decision informed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Spokane Regional Health District.
“Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19,” said the CDC’s official guideline on traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I didn’t have any concrete spring break plans as of now, but I did want to get out and do something and or take the week off to recuperate from the draining semester I know will be having,” Marisa Montesi said. “As a senior, this is really damaging.”
The reimagined 16-week semester will contain six weeks of instruction that will be made up of four days, versus five, meaning there will be six three-day weekends and one four-day weekend for Easter.
“Spreading the days throughout the semester that might otherwise be used for a spring holiday break across the semester seemed the wisest course to follow given our concern for minimizing COVID-19 risks and exposures,” said Porterfield and González in an email.
According to the academic calendar, the days off will include Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18, Presidents’ Day holiday on Feb. 15, the newly introduced mid-semester Reading Day on March 12, Good Friday holiday on April 2, Easter holiday on April 5, and a second reading day on May 3.
“I appreciate having a few days off here and there, but it doesn’t allow students to really unwind and relax before coming back to finish out the semester,” senior McKenzie Craig said.
Senior Michelle Ryan feels the same about the days off.
“Those days aren’t enough to recharge for the semester it just feels like a long weekend with endless days until graduation,” Ryan said.
This revised calendar does raise concerns about the potential travel and COVID-19 spread that may occur during the four-day Easter holiday.
“I don’t want to travel during holiday seasons but also don't want to be alone for a long period of time,” Ryan said.
“Depending on CDC guidelines at the time, travel might be both costly and difficult if there is quarantining on either end of the travel. Students and families will need to consider carefully these possibilities,” said Porterfield and González in an email.
As of right now, GU is not planning on changing the spring 2021 calendar again unless the environmental circumstances change so significantly the university receives direction from health officials.
“Senior year is the last time to have everybody together in one place, so this decision is a really big bummer,” Craig said.
For seniors graduating this May, there is fear that graduation will be canceled again.
“We are following a similar process to reach a decision on virtual or in-person commencement,” said Porterfield and González in an email. “Many considerations will influence this decision, including the availability of a venue that will hold many thousands of people. The decision for our virtual 2020 Commencement, held on Labor Day weekend, was impacted by our interest in public health safety, the safety of the graduates, and their families.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions that suspended all gatherings, GU was unable to hold the graduation in the Spokane Arena.
“The university has a responsibility to take care of students and respect the difficult and challenging situations we are in,” Montesi said.