On July 1, 2020, members of the senior administration held a webinar to expound upon the College’s plans for the upcoming school year and address student concerns. Students and parents who attended the webinar were not allowed to speak, but they were allowed to submit their questions and concerns in writing using the Q&A function in Zoom. Participants were able to “like” questions in order to send them to the top of the Q&A feed, thus increasing their chances of being answered. A follow-up webinar was held on July 7.
The July 1 webinar began with President Paula Johnson discussing the College’s plans from a health perspective, as she reassured students that telemedicine would be available to students who choose to study remotely. Next, Provost Andrew Shennan explained how the school year will work from an academic perspective, beginning by saying that the school year will be split into four seven-week terms, with students taking a minimum of 1.5 units per term. According to Shennan and the College’s official FAQ page, students can register for a maximum of 4.75 units over the two terms in the fall. Once the school year begins, non-first years will be able to add courses to their schedules up to a maximum of 5.75 units of coursework.
Provost Shennan went on to say that the College is creating new study abroad options for the second fall term, and that new half unit classes were being added to the course catalog. The College is also a full roster of (mostly) remote Physical Education courses. The courses offered in the fall are primarily aimed at freshman and sophomores, according to Shennan, while the courses offered in the spring are aimed primarily at juniors and seniors.
Dean of Students Sheilah Horton spoke about housing and student life in the upcoming school year. She explained that all students will live in single rooms, and that the College is implementing a “student block system” to ensure that students have a social life. These “student blocks” will consist of 4-6 students who will eat and socialize together, and students can either request to block with their friends or leave it to the StarRez housing portal to assign them a compatible student block. Dean Horton emphasized the importance of individual responsibility to safe campus reopening, and explained that the code of conduct for students living on campus will be the same code of conduct that was implemented in the previous spring semester. Finally, Dean Horton said that the College is looking into a hotel to house juniors and seniors in the fall. She explained that the College would take over the hotel and provide transportation to campus for meals. The shuttle busses to and from the hotel would be filled at 50% capacity, and hotel parking will be free for Wellesley students. Pricing for on-campus student parking will remain the same as it has been in previous years.
At the follow-up webinar on July 7, Dean Horton showed pictures of three potential hotels. The hotels have been tentatively identified by Simone Nevills ’21 as the Hotel Indigo Newton-Riverside, which is an eleven-minute drive away from Wellesley, The Verve Boston-Natick, which is located near the Natick Mall, and the Boston Marriott Newton, which is approximately sixteen minutes away from Wellesley. All hotel rooms will have mini-fridges, king or queen-sized beds, private bathrooms, televisions, and high-speed internet. Students will have access to a fitness center, on-site laundry, and a microwave. Dining services will provide students with breakfast, snacks, and to-go meals for students to take back to their hotels.
Helen Wang, Director of Residential Life expanded upon what on-campus life will look like in the fall, and she unveiled several new initiatives aimed at fostering community. These initiatives include the blocking system and physically distanced activities such as movies every Friday night on Severance green, pop up food trucks, book clubs, and “picnic blankets on the Chapel lawn with berries and cheese.” She also announced that Residential Life will be bringing back the bell desk, a Wellesley tradition.
Both webinars concluded with a Q&A session. Over 500 questions were asked at the July 1 webinar, but the College was unable to answer very many of them because of the time constraints of the meeting. One of the most popular questions was, “How can students be expected to decide what they want to do by July 10 when financial aid won’t be released until July 15?” Joy St. John, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, answered this question, saying that students should base their fall plans on what their financial aid looked like last year, unless their circumstances have drastically changed. According to Dean St. John, if students had loans in the past they should expect loans this year, and loans will likely increase. However, student contribution for all students on aid will likely decrease. She also explained why the College needs to know students’ housing plans before issuing financial information, saying that the financial aid office needs to know students’ plans in order to provide accurate financial information. A group of students have started a petition to “ask that the College extend the housing intent form to July 20th, release a full breakdown of tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year, and release the Code of Conduct for all Wellesley sponsored housing, including terms and enforcement.” At the July 7 webinar, the College announced that the deadline for fall intent has been moved to July 13, with financial aid information now being released on July 17. Student Financial Services (SFS) has also uploaded sample financial aid offers and bills to the SFS website.
Another popular question concerned the College’s decision to reinstate letter grading. In response to this question, Provost Shennan said that the spring semester was completely unprecedented, therefore mandatory credit/non was warranted. It is no longer warranted, according to Shennan, because the upcoming school year is a completely different situation, and because it is important for students to have letter grades. A group of students have started a petition to have the College reinstate the mandatory credit/non policy because, among many other reasons, “the conditions that precluded the need to instate the mandatory credit/non grading policy earlier this year have not only persist[ed], but have actively worsened.”
Some students expressed privacy concerns around the contact tracking and symptom tracking students are expected to submit to in the fall. President Johnson assured students that their privacy will be protected, explaining that students will be using a secure app to log their symptoms and receive their test results. She further explained that if a student’s COVID-19 test results come back negative, they will receive a checkmark on the app. If their test result comes back positive, the result will not be sent to the student, but rather to Health Services. Health Services will then contact the student.
Many students and parents questioned the College’s decision to charge the same tuition for both on-campus and remote study. Provost Shennan explained that the faculty have developed outstanding courses for both in-person and remote learners, therefore the quality of the education students’ will receive has not diminished. The College, according to Shennan, is also providing an educational program that will enable students to achieve the same amount of academic credit they would in any other year. She went on to say that the College is providing the same student services to on-campus and remote students, therefore it is “fair and appropriate” to charge the same tuition. The College’s justification has drawn the ire of some students and parents, although there appears to be no concrete action being planned at this time.
At the July 7 webinar, President Johnson spoke about the Department of Homeland Security’s new policy which requires international students on an F-1 visa to take at least one in-person class in order to avoid deportation and loss of their student visa. President Johnson assured webinar participants that the College is “working hard to find a way to ensure that our International students can maintain their visa status.” In a July 8 email, President Johnson elaborated on the College’s plans for international students writing that the College is planning on giving international students “access to on-campus housing” and working with faculty to “make it possible for them to receive some in-person instruction in order to remain in compliance.
Students are encouraged to look at the Q&A and fall planning guide posted on the Wellesley website.