As students pack their bags and begin to head home from Wittenberg University’s fall semester, the question of what the spring semester will look like lingers in the air. With the first semester being fraught with uncertainty and consistent changes, the questions students have regarding how the academic and social calendars will change, has yet to be answered.
According to the university’s senior staff, students will complete the move-in process from Jan. 14–17, with classes not starting until the 19 to honor the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday taking place on Monday, Jan. 18. With less than 10% of classes taking place fully online, the university is installing new cameras in classrooms that would address the lack of equitable course delivery if the university were to completely shift to a virtual format due to an uncontrollable spread of COVID-19, or if the governor and his office dictated the need to do so.
“[Earlier this fall], after the outbreak on campus caused by students in social settings not following basic public health strategies, we elected to move to remote instruction to ensure a more equitable learning experience,” said Karen Gerboth, vice president for marketing and communications. “If the university found itself in a similar situation, we would likely consider shifting to remote instruction for similar reasons. The university will also be attempting to improve air quality in some of our facilities, but if it ends up not being enough and we do shift to remote learning, we believe that the cameras we will be adding into classrooms will provide as an adequate substitute.”
Despite the university’s preparations for a possible shift to remote learning and an added testing regimen for students, much of the plans for spring semester have remained the same. While the university claims that it will observe public health guidelines to dictate what events will be available for them to put on, their persistence in trying to put on traditional events is a testament to the university’s dedication to keeping tradition alive. One event that has already seen a tremendous amount of preparation is commencement, and how to conduct that event regardless of what is available from a public health standpoint.
“The Commencement committee will be planning for both an in-person and virtual Commencement experience since we simply do not know at this point what will be possible in regard to hosting,” Gerboth said.
“We hope that we can have a big graduation ceremony for everybody, including the class of 2020, who missed out on theirs to be involved,” said Michael Frandsen, president of Wittenberg. “However, if this coming weekend were graduation weekend, we could not have more than 450 people in commencement hall. So, we would have to have at least three, maybe four different graduation ceremonies to accommodate all the graduates and their families with them.”
As seniors question whether their graduation will look anything like they’ve seen in the past, Wittenberg sets its sights on the incoming class of 2025.
“We are pleased that our current enrollment remains stable despite COVID-19,” Gerboth said. “The engagement level among prospective students and families has been consistent with prior years at this point in the cycle. Our virtual opportunities to attend a class, learn more about what makes Wittenberg distinctive, and understand the financial aid process are proving attractive to students and families.”
With Wittenberg’s plans for spring semester as clear as they were at the beginning of fall semester, students can only hope that a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed and distributed quickly enough that the consistent changes to the academic calendar are few and far in between.