Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier managing editor
As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to require heightened safety precautions, Berry implemented changes in November to the spring academic calendar that are aimed at maintaining a high quality educational experience for students while also limiting the potential for disease to spread on campus and beyond. Classes began a week later than were they were initially planned to, Spring Break has been replaced with a single day off, and classes will now be held on Good Friday.
According to Provost Mary Boyd, decisions on issues such as the spring semester calendar are made by the Academic Council, a legislation-based body that deals with Berry’s educational affairs.
“Academic Council reviews academic matters and policies related to academic affairs,” Boyd said. “So regarding proposed new courses, new majors, changes to majors- all of those things come to Academic Council for reviews.”
When arriving at decisions for the spring calendar, Boyd explained the Academic Council took into consideration many recommendations regarding ways to limit potential viral transmission. The Council was able to reflect on the planning for last semester in order to look forward.
“For the fall semester, for example, we moved up the start of the semester by one week so that we could end all classes on Nov. 20 and then have remote finals,” Boyd said. “We thought that we did not want to send students home for Thanksgiving and then bring them back on campus, and risk breaking the campus bubble. Looking ahead at the spring semester, we did the same thing but in the other direction.”
One of the primary considerations when planning the semester was how extended periods without class could allow students to travel, potentially catching and spreading COVID-19 in the Berry community.
“We [Academic Council] looked at how we could best keep the campus safe,” Boyd said. “Among the things we considered was whether or not it was advisable to keep a spring break, knowing that if students go on spring break, they might travel to other places and then have the possibility of bringing the virus back to campus.”
Without this break, Boyd explained that Academic Council recognized students would not have as much time to relax and get away from classes. In order to combat this, classes are still scheduled to be suspended on Apr. 13 for Symposium on Student Scholarship, as well as during the Reading Day on Apr. 28. Additionally, the beginning of the semester was delayed to ensure a longer winter break.
“We decided to push back the start of the semester by one week, partly because we knew everyone needed to have more opportunity for rest and rejuvenation,” Boyd said.
Further, the Academic Council is encouraging faculty members to remember this need for rest and have time in the middle of the semester with fewer assignments, in hopes of giving students a break without necessarily giving them the opportunity to leave campus for several days..
“There have been some discussions that maybe faculty could realize that during the middle of the semester, around spring break time, could be a time where there are fewer major assignments due, exams due,” Boyd said. “So we have had conversations about this and encouraged professors to be mindful of this.”
Further, as Boyd explained at the SGA meeting this Tuesday, Academic Council is discussing a proposal that would retroactively permit students to change all their fall courses to a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grading scale.
“This would provide students with an opportunity to convert grades from a letter grade to an S for Satisfactory or an F to a U grade for unsatisfactory,” Boyd said. “That would take a letter grade out of the GPA calculation. We’re in the process of discussing that.”
The Academic Council will vote on this proposal in their next meeting on Feb. 10. Boyd encourages all students to share their opinions related to this matter, as well as the academic experience during fall semester as a whole, prior to and beyond this vote.
Several faculty members are on the Academic Council alongside Boyd. Further, two student representatives from SGA, seniors Max von Schmeling and Michaela Lumpert, and Dean of Students Lindsey Taylor, are on the Council to represent the opinions of students.
“I hope that if students have thoughts about the fall semester and how that was for them, how they would feel about this proposal, then I would absolutely encourage them to share that,” Boyd said. “I think it’s important for us to hear student voices on what the lived student experience was like in the fall semester.”