WCU announces changes to fall academic calendar

Originally published in The Sylva Herald on June 11, 2020. 

After much anticipation, Western Carolina University has officially announced changes to the fall semester calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WCU will hold its first day of classes on Monday, Aug. 17, as previously scheduled, but has decided to eliminate the traditional fall break, move final exams online and have students home for the remainder of the semester prior to Thanksgiving.

Below are some dates that will serve as mileposts for the fall semester:

• First day of classes will be Monday, Aug. 17.

• Labor Day holiday on Monday, Sept. 7, will be observed.

• The last day to withdraw from a class and receive a “W” will be Friday, Oct. 23.

• Advising Day will be held Tuesday, Oct. 27.

• Last day of face-to-face classes will be Friday, Nov. 20.

• Classes on Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24, will be held online.

• Thanksgiving break for instruction will be Wednesday, Nov. 25, through Friday, Nov. 27.

• Final exams will be held online between Monday, Nov. 30, and Friday, Dec. 4

• The winter break will begin at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4.

• Officials anticipate commencement ceremonies will be held Saturday, Dec. 12, for the spring 2020 graduates (rescheduled from May) and Sunday, Dec. 13, for the summer and fall 2020 graduates.

Amongst these changes, instruction for the fall semester will be offered through a combination of face-to-face, online, hybrid and modified hybrid course delivery.

The changes are part of the university’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, WCU Chancellor Kelli Brown said in announcing the fall semester academic calendar.

“This schedule maximizes instructional time in the early fall and minimizes the opportunities for students, as well as faculty and staff, to travel away from campus on extended breaks,” she said. “This strategy should reduce exposure to and spread of coronavirus. It also should align the academic calendar in such a manner as to avoid a densely populated campus in late fall and early winter, when the potential for a significant resurgence of the virus may be highest.”

The academic calendar and strategy for instruction are part of a comprehensive and evolving plan for the fall semester being developed by a working group in the Division of Academic Affairs led by Richard Starnes, WCU’s interim provost, and based on guidance from the University of North Carolina System.

This new schedule has drawn mixed responses from WCU students.

“There are pros and cons to every decision,” student Ian Rushton said. “I think the extra time will allow graduating students to start applying for jobs. On the downside graduating students with full-time jobs are going to have to adjust their schedules because the semester has been condensed,” he said.

“It’s good that they’re trying to let people back on campus because it brings back important student jobs, development opportunities, and interactions that help transition students from childhood into a more independent adult life,” student Townsend Lenihan said. “However, I don’t know that things like removing fall break will be necessarily effective in mitigating anything as students will already be returning from a variety of locations at the end of summer.

“And if COVID-19 is still an issue by the time fall break hits, then campus would probably be closing again anyway since it would then just become a concentrated hotspot of what they’re trying to avoid happening over fall break.”

Current plans for resumption of operations for the fall semester may shift in response to changing conditions, Brown said.

“The last few months have taught us that information and response to new data about COVID-19 require a high level of flexibility and patience,” she said.

With the fall academic calendar now set, university leaders are working on related operational details, including plans for residential living, dining, student move-in, large campus gatherings and athletic events.

Updates will be posted online at info.wcu.edu/fall2020.