In its first in-person meeting since March, Northwest’s Board of Regents approved a revised academic calendar for the 2020-21 school year June 19, reflecting changes brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Proposed by University Provost Jamie Hooyman, the revised calendar makes the following changes and clarifications:
- Northwest’s first day of classes will still be Aug. 19.
- Instead of closing for five days for Thanksgiving break, as originally planned, Northwest will have classes Monday, Nov. 23 and Tuesday, Nov. 24 ahead of the Nov. 26 holiday.
- Nov. 24 will be Northwest’s last day of in-person classes in the fall semester.
- In the week after the holiday break, from Nov. 20 to Dec. 4, in-person and blended classes will have a “prep week,” Hooyman said, before the start of finals week.
- During the prep week, online classes will continue as scheduled and night classes will take final exams.
- For in-person, blended and online classes, final exams will be taken online during Northwest’s originally-scheduled finals week, starting Dec. 7.
Hooyman said the University’s campus will remain open during the first two weeks of December, despite the fact that classes won’t be held, giving on-campus residents the option to stay at Northwest through the end of finals week as they complete courses online.
“So what that allows our students to do, is after Thanksgiving break they have the opportunity to go home and do their work from home,” Hooyman said in her presentation to the board.
After less than two minutes of questions and discussion among the board, the proposal passed unanimously. Regent Jason Klindt, chair of the board’s Academic and Student Engagement Committee, said the committee reviewed the proposal prior to the meeting and that it “makes perfect sense.”
In her presentation to the board, Hooyman said the decision to hold classes Nov. 23-24 allowed the University to observe Labor Day and Walk-Out day while still logging the requisite number of days to meet accreditation standards.
After the board’s open session, Northwest President John Jasinski said University decision-makers had conversations with colleagues and experts across the country in deciding how to handle the fall semester, but ultimately, he said, the decisions were made internally with the best interest of the Northwest community in mind.
“I really believe that it’s a great solution for the information that we know today, because we all know that things may change next week or next month — whatever,” Jasinski said. “But for what we know today and that start date Aug. 19, the end date in December and what we’re doing in-between, it was the right thing for our students, for our faculty, staff and our community.”
Jasinski said the newly-approved academic calendar is “agile,” and is, of course, subject to change as information surrounding the global pandemic evolves on a daily basis. Northwest Athletic Director Andy Peterson, a member of Northwest’s Leadership team, said at least a part of Northwest’s decision to stick with the mid-August starting date and hold onto the hope of a mostly-in-person fall semester stems from the financial loss the University took in the spring after sending students home in March due to the pandemic.
The University paid out nearly $4.2 million in room and board refunds in the spring after sending students home for the term in March. At the June 18 meeting, the Board of Regents approved the University’s recommendation to use the $2.4 million it received in institutional aide via the CARES Act to help offset some of those refund costs.
In implementing a 14-week in-person academic calendar this fall that will mostly keep students from congregating on campus after Nov. 24, the University is hoping to avoid a wave of similar refunds that would come with an early closure due to a potential COVID-19 outbreak.
“It seems like a necessary risk to take for the longterm viability of the institution,” Peterson said. “That impact is significant if you have to do that again. So, yeah — that’s the kicker.”
Jasinski said University officials are looking into how the spring 2021 semester might take shape at Northwest, though he said their energy has mostly been spent on ensuring a smooth reopening of University facilities June 22 and on bringing students back to campus in August.
The president said officials don’t yet have details regarding what the spring might look like at Northwest. He said the University is hoping for normalcy.
“But, hey, look — we all know that we’re not going to have normalcy, come spring,” Jasinski said, before pausing. “I mean — we don’t know that for sure, I guess, but chances are, we’re not going to have normalcy right in January. But we’re gonna work towards that.”