Plans for Winter/Spring Term - W&L Community

To: W&L Students, Faculty, and Staff
From: President Will Dudley
Date: Friday, November 6

As we approach the final week of Fall Term classes, it is worth reflecting on our experience operating in the midst of the pandemic and how it informs our plans for the coming term.

From the moment we shifted abruptly to remote education in March, our focus has been on doing everything in our power to enable our students to return to campus, and on providing the best education we can in the prevailing environment. I want to acknowledge how difficult this is for everyone. There are real tradeoffs between the measures we must take to allow students to remain here for the full academic year and the beloved rhythms of normal life at W&L.

We have succeeded so far in keeping our campus open. This is an achievement in itself and I thank all of you for making it possible by adapting to unfamiliar routines and striving to uphold our community expectations. Many other schools remained closed this fall, or reopened briefly only to send students home again, but your efforts have kept our infection rates at manageable levels, which is the key to our ability to continue being together.

I recognize the strain of living with the restrictions we have put in place to protect our campus and local community. Social distancing is not natural and presents challenges to mental health, including feelings of isolation and anxiety. We are adding staff in the Counseling Center and have listened to student ideas for improving their quality of life. Steps we have been able to take in the course of Fall Term include:

  • Increased programming from the Outing Club, intramural sports, and student activities;
  • Dedicated programming to connect first-year students with upper-division students;
  • Informal rush activities under guidelines proposed by Panhellenic and IFC;
  • Tents across campus with seating and heaters for student gatherings; and
  • Reservable rooms for small groups of students to attend virtual classes together.

For Winter and Spring terms, we will increase the frequency of COVID-19 testing in order to identify and stem the spread of infections more quickly. If this reduces the incidence of the virus in our population, we will be able to create more opportunities for students.

We are preparing carefully, drawing upon everything we have learned this fall, but our plans must remain flexible and responsive to how the pandemic unfolds in the coming months. Based on what we know today, here is what you can expect.

Student Departures and Arrivals

On-campus residential facilities will close at 5 p.m. on Nov. 22 and reopen for a phased move-in on Jan. 12-16. We are offering optional appointments for students and employees who wish to have a COVID-19 test before leaving campus.

Move-in dates have been communicated to students by the Office of Residential Life. Students are expected to quarantine for 14 days prior to returning to campus. Students returning to W&L directly from international travel should plan to arrive by Jan. 3 in order to complete their quarantine before classes begin.

All students, faculty, and staff will be tested for COVID-19 prior to the start of classes. Students will self-quarantine while awaiting their test results, which is expected to take one to two days.

Academics

Undergraduate classes will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 19. There will be three "break" days during the Winter Term to give students and faculty time to rest and recharge. Undergraduate exams will take place April 10-16, followed by a one-week break before Spring Term. Commencement is scheduled for May 27.

Law classes will begin in an all-virtual format on Monday, Jan. 11, with in-person class meetings resuming on Tuesday, Jan. 19. There will be three "break" days during the term. Law exams will take place April 20-27, with Law Commencement scheduled for May 7.

A final decision on the format of commencement exercises for both undergraduate and law will be communicated in Winter Term.

At their most recent meeting, our faculty reaffirmed the importance of personal instruction and interaction with students. We have added more classrooms, and installed heaters in outdoor teaching spaces, to facilitate in-person teaching in the winter months. For virtual courses, the majority of class meetings are expected to involve synchronous discussion, problem-solving, and group learning.

We entrust W&L faculty members with determining the best mode of teaching for each of their courses, which they will continue to do. Winter Term will begin with approximately 45% of undergraduate courses fully in-person. Another 20% will have at least one in-person meeting per week, and 35% will be virtual. Should the number of students in isolation and quarantine become too high during the term, faculty may need to adjust course formats to best meet the needs of all students.

The modality of each course is noted in our course catalog, which is available online. All students will be able to prioritize a course using "Pick One" during registration, which should guarantee at least one in-person class for every student who wants one. More detailed information about registration, which will take place from Nov. 9-13, will be sent to students by the University Registrar.

The Law School expects to offer more than half of its classes in-person. Hybrid and virtual courses will be designated as such on the course schedule. Law students seeking to participate virtually in an in-person class may file a request with Dean Mason.

Campus Life, Athletics, and Events

Increased testing this winter should increase the opportunities for students to participate in varsity, club and intramural sports, artistic performances, and student organizations.

Our testing program will comply with NCAA resocialization guidelines and testing recommendations for safe practice and competition. Varsity teams will develop and implement protocols for appropriate training and practice. Opportunities to compete will vary by sport and will depend upon the availability of opposing teams that are also in compliance with prevailing NCAA resocialization guidelines and testing recommendations. Coaches and athletics administration will regularly communicate all necessary details to student-athletes as they become available and decisions are made.

Our performing arts programs are exploring options to allow for in-person performances with live audiences of campus community members in accordance with prevailing social distancing guidance.

Student Affairs is partnering with students to develop a full slate of activities for Winter Term. These already include: a campus-wide scavenger hunt; "dinner and a movie" Netflix parties; a podcast club; subsidized outings to local attractions; virtual speakers and concerts; a weekly "Ask Big Questions" discussion series; and regular programming from the Campus Unity Initiative. More information on these programs will be added to our website during the break.

The Outing Club has teamed up with University Facilities to install two new gravel firepits for campfires on back campus during Winter Term. These will be used as hammock stations and outdoor movie and picnic locations during warmer weather months.

The Financial Aid Office has added approximately 100 work-study jobs for first-year students this winter. We will also explore ways for students to volunteer safely in the local community.

Community Expectations

To make increased activity and interaction possible, we need to keep COVID-19 infection rates low. The basic expectations for Winter Term are therefore expected to be much the same as they were this fall:

  • All members of our community will attest to any symptoms of possible COVID-19 exposure on a daily basis and participate in testing, isolation, and contact tracing to identify and contain potential outbreaks;
  • Students will maintain at least a six-foot distance from others and wear a face covering indoors, other than when they are in their own room or apartment;
  • Face coverings will be required outdoors while walking but may be removed when stationary and at least six feet from others;
  • Seating in Elrod Marketplace and Evans Dining Hall will be limited to students and arranged to allow for social distancing. Other dining venues will offer takeout service only;
  • Campus buildings will remain closed to non-essential visitors throughout the Winter Term. No visitors or family members will be allowed into campus residential facilities, except on scheduled move-in and move-out dates;
  • Formal Greek recruitment will take place virtually for both fraternities and sororities.

None of us likes living with these restrictions. They are necessary to protect the health of our community, complete the school year on campus, and provide as much activity as we can.

We are all in this together. Our aim is to be a mutually supportive community in which we all help each other make the best of this uniquely difficult year. Toward that end, over the break we will review our conduct processes and streamline our COVID-19 Resources website to make it easier to find important information. Students and employees will affirm a revised Statement of Community Expectations before the start of the next term.

Undergraduate Enrollment Options

Undergraduate students may choose whether to come to campus for Winter Term or to enroll remotely and take all of their classes virtually. Students who wish to participate remotely will need to complete the declaration form by Nov. 18. Upper-division students considering this option should be aware that limitations in course selection could affect their major path, and they should contact the University Registrar. Students who opt not to return to campus will not be charged room and board or the Student Health Services Fee. Tuition will be the same for all undergraduate students regardless of the mode of instruction they select. Students who wish to take an academic leave next term should file a request with Dean Leonard by December 10.

Employment

The university will be closed from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1 so that our faculty and staff can enjoy some well-deserved time away from work. Employees who travel outside Virginia will be expected to quarantine for 14 days prior to returning to campus and should work with their supervisors to plan accordingly. Campus operations will resume on Jan. 4, with arrival testing for employees taking place January 11-15.

We will make every effort to meet the needs of employees with school-aged children through a variety of options, including shift changes, class schedule adjustments, and alternative work arrangements. Some employees may be asked to continue working from home in order to reduce contact within a department. Meetings will continue to be conducted virtually when social distancing is not possible or gatherings exceed the prevailing limits.

Be Well

This year has challenged all of us in ways we could never have imagined. I am proud of our collective efforts to complete the Fall Term on campus and know that we will remain resilient, flexible, and creative this winter. Thank you for your commitment and positive spirit.

I wish each of you a restorative break and quality time with family and friends, and I look forward to seeing you back on campus in January.

Will Dudley