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'Next year may very likely look different': What Brown could look like in three terms

University administrators outline how safety measures could change college experience

While President Christina Paxson P’19 said she is “very cautiously optimistic” that an on-campus experience split into three terms could happen for the coming academic year, the safety of community members and the observance of public health guidelines will remain priorities.

At Tuesday’s faculty meeting, Paxson and Provost Richard Locke P’18 presented ideas on how in-person academic experiences on College Hill could change if the University holds three separate fall, spring and summer terms. 

Paxson also announced that the University is working on contingency plans for a regularly scheduled, two-term academic year and a fall semester of remote learning, The Herald previously reported. Paxson will make a decision on which of the plans to follow by July 15. 

Large gatherings, which typically characterize several features of University life including sports games, lectures and social events, would be difficult to accommodate if guidelines continue to limit the number of people who can gather together. Holding the school year over three terms would reduce population density on campus and possibly prevent the spread of the virus. 

Locke said that classes with more than 100 students will most likely have to be taught in a flipped classroom, in which lectures are recorded, but smaller in-person discussion groups will be allowed. Locke assured faculty that many of the University's small classes would be offered as traditional in-person classes, taking their same pre-pandemic form. Medium-sized classes, according to Locke, would still be offered in-person, but students would have to be spread out in large lecture halls.

Paxson also wrote that the University is planning to offer online classes to students who cannot physically return to campus due to travel restrictions or health conditions. 

To accommodate the three-semester plan, the University would have to offer some classes twice as often as usual. Still, Locke stressed that this outcome would not require extra work from faculty, as most of the courses that would be offered twice would be large intro classes that would have a lecture capture component. 

Faculty would also have the choice of which of the two semesters they teach and would not have to teach three semesters if they did not want to, Locke added. 

Locke stated that the University is going to work closely with departments in determining which courses would be offered in each of the three proposed academic year models. 

The University would then offer an expanded number of classes during the summer for undergraduates. It would simultaneously continue to offer its pre-college programs, such as Summer@Brown. Locke added that the University would be able to support all students on campus for both summer programs and the staggered second semester due to new residence hall construction and housing usually not being filled by summer programs in recent years.

Paxson explained that the three-semester system was inspired by a model that Dartmouth already had in place before the COVID-19 crisis to deal with overpopulation on their campus. “They structured it in such a way that it’s seen as a wonderful experience, instead of a burden,” Locke said. Because of the model’s success at Dartmouth, Locke and Paxson said that they are optimistic about how students will respond to this idea. 

“We are going to try to find out what the preferences of the students are” for the three-semester schedule, and “of course that means some people might not get their first choices but we want to make the whole academic year a wonderful experience,” Locke said.

Locke also added that the University is going to try its best to provide programming for students in the semester that they are not on campus. Locke said this could be done by offering online internships with alumni or no-fee online classes.

Paxson said that students will have an important role determining what will happen. In a community-wide email Wednesday, Paxson wrote that a confidential survey will be sent to new and continuing students on May 17 “to guide and refine our plans.” She strongly encouraged students to take the survey and wrote that there will be virtual town halls for students "to share updates on planning." 

According to Paxson, the data from the survey and information from the town halls will be key in aiding the University’s planning. Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence and Professor of Economics Emily Oster, head of the Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force, said during the faculty meeting that the best ideas of safety measures on campus have come from students. 

Paxson stated that she believes that students are conscious of the importance of social distancing measures and will be able to respect those both in classes as well as in social spaces of the University.

The University must wait in order to ultimately “weigh these factors to make a better and more fully informed decision,” Paxson said.



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