This seems like a big mistake. From the Record:

In an all-campus email sent today, President Maud S. Mandel announced plans to adopt a revised version of the regular two-semester academic calendar for the 2020-21 academic year. Regardless of whether classes are in-person or remote, students will be required to take a minimum of three courses each semester rather than four. Winter Study will not take place in January 2021.

“A two-semester model with reduced per-semester credit requirements and more space in the calendar offers the greatest latitude to meet diverse needs without compromising the quality of our education,” Mandel wrote in the email.

1) It was obvious to EphBlog a month ago, and obvious to everyone now, that Williams students will be on campus in September. It is OK for Williams to delay making that decision official until July, but we should focus planning on that eventuality.

2) It makes no sense to have students take just three classes. Am I the only one that sees that?

First, no other school is following such a crazy plan. (Contrary examples welcome.) Why? Because it is crazy!

Second, a danger we will face in September will be students infecting each other. We should keep them busy with academics! If anything, we should increase the workload, especially work like reading and writing that can be done alone in a dorm room. Decreasing student workload makes social distancing harder. Is there more or less social distancing during Winter Study? I seem to remember some fairly crowded Perry House parties . . .

Third, the quality of a Williams education is directly proportional to the number of classes students take, at least for classes one through four. How can Maud pretend otherwise? If the fourth class didn’t improve the quality of a Williams education, than why have we forced students to take it for the last 50 years? (History question: When did the 4 courses per semester become standardized?)

Fourth, is Williams going to prevent students from taking four courses? Presumably (?) not. I bet plenty (more than half? more than 75%?) will still take four. Heck, lots of students take five courses now. And, unless I am mistaken, none of the numerous requirements — for divisional distribution, writing intensive, majors, DPE and so on — are going away. In that world, how do you think employers will compare/contrast students who took only three courses with those who took four? It could (easily?) be that, despite the best of intentions, the causal effect of this policy will be to hurt the future prospects of the Williams students who take advantage of taking three courses. Is that what Maud wants?

3) Getting rid of Winter Study is not unreasonable. Several schools have announced fall semesters which will end at Thanksgiving, at which point they will send students home for 6 weeks or more. Williams could consider something similar. The last thing we want is students doing too much traveling back-and-forth from Williamstown to the wider world. But, at the same time, just what would we do with the students who can’t go home . . . There is some shirking here, obviously. Williams doesn’t want students to get sick, but it really does not want them to get sick while they are at Williams. The less time they spend at Williams, the better, from that selfish point of view.

4) Kudos to the Record for providing a copy of the original e-mail. It is a little thing, I know, and something every competent paper would do. But, for decades, the Record has failed to do this because it has been incompetent. Change we can believe in!

5) Key sentence from the e-mail:

These changes will maximize flexibility for students and limit the amount of time that people are required to be on campus . . .

A close reading is required. First, as discussed above, is “flexibility” the most important things to provide students? No! Williams needs to provide them, a), with safety and, b), with a quality education. I don’t see how three courses really helps with either. Second, note the switch from “students” in the first part of the sentence to “people” in the second.

Students have to spend the same amount of time on campus regardless!

Working class employees at Williams — janitors, cooks, B&G, et cetera — all have to spend the the same amount of time on campus.

White-color employees who interact with students have to spend the same amount of time on campus.

White-color employees who don’t interact with students have to spend the same amount of time (zero) on campus.

The only people this policy — requiring three courses rather than four — affects are faculty. Is the Williams faculty really so cowardly as to agree with this special treatment? Read Swarthmore’s Tim Burke.

6) Isn’t it a bit presumptuous to announce this before getting faculty approval? Maybe Maud just knows that the faculty will go along with whatever she wants. Maybe! And that is what Hank Payne thought when he announced the donation for the ’62 Center . . . Perhaps faculty readers could chime in.

7) Why announce this all now? The longer you wait to announce things, the more information you will have. Of course, you can’t wait forever. But, if we don’t have to announce to July 1 whether or not students will be on campus — Hint: they will be! — then we certainly don’t need to announce changes in course requirements.

Am I missing something here?

Rest of the (excellent) article below the break. Should I spend a week going through this?

“The model also depends on a further change to college policies,” she explained. The College will have to reduce the course requirements for students enrolled in the 2020-2021 academic year in order for students to graduate on time. However, this change in graduation requirements has not yet been confirmed; the matter will be put to a faculty vote. It is not yet clear how or if this change will affect major and distribution requirements.

The College will implement this academic model whether or not on-campus classes resume in the fall. Earlier this semester, Mandel announced that she will make a decision on returning to campus by July 1. Prior to today’s email announcement, the administration was weighing a wide range of academic models for the upcoming year, including a trimester system, a three-semester system, a quarter system and beginning with a remote Winter Study.

Several days ago, Mandel approached the faculty with the option of implementing a trimester or three-semester model, which were considered the leading options at the time. In an interview with the Record last week, Mandel cited faculty feedback as a primary motivation for moving away from one of those models. “I think we’re trying to assess that feedback, and if the feedback fundamentally challenges the model, we might move away from it,” Mandel said. Ultimately, the College decided to continue with the standard two semesters.

The decision to maintain a two-semester schedule while altering academic requirements and canceling Winter Study was the result of deliberation by senior staff and faculty representatives, including the elected members of the Faculty Steering Committee and the chairs of the Committee on Educational Affairs, the Curricular Planning Committee and the Honor and Discipline Committee.

Mandel also announced the membership of a new working group that will determine how best to implement this approach in the event that students are unable to return to campus in the fall. The group is co-chaired by incoming Dean of the Faculty Safa Zaki and Chair of Classics and Jewish Studies Edan Dekel. In the coming weeks, the group will collaborate with the Office of the Dean of the Faculty and the Committee on Appointments and Promotions to investigate the implications of the new model. “They’ll reach out to faculty, departments, and programs to evaluate the implications for class size, sequencing, major requirements, honors processes and pedagogy, among other issues,” as well as questions of faculty workload and evaluation, Mandel explained in the email.

Mandel also announced plans for the working group to “survey faculty, staff and students about the model’s possible impact on our diverse community.” Details on the survey will be released shortly.

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