UI cancels spring break, postpones start of semester
October 20, 2020
The UI senate has agreed on a revamped spring semester, with week-late start, three more non-instructional days and no spring break.
Campus officials passed the resolution 129-13 at Monday’s meeting, after several proposed amendments to modify the number and nature of the non-instructional days.
The semester will begin on Jan. 25 instead of the original Jan. 19 start date, while adding Wednesday, Feb. 17; Wednesday, March 24; and Tuesday, April 13 as off-days.
Commencement will occur at its originally scheduled May 15 date.
“When this proposal was introduced at Educational Policy Committee, none of us were thrilled learning that one of the recommendations was canceling spring break,” said senate chair Linda Moorhouse.
As of Oct. 13, eight other Big Ten schools had already canceled spring break.
Modelers at Illinois’ SHIELD team endorsed the semester changes at Monday’s meeting, laying out the health risks a spring vacation could create.
“We know that travel is a risk to members of our community,” said Rebecca Smith, epidemiologist and co-leader of the SHIELD Target team.
Smith cited a report from Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, that found a single spring break trip in 2020 resulted in 64 cases of COVID-19; 60 cases among 183 travelers, one from a household contact and three from community contacts.
Smith also mentioned the hassle a mass return from travel would create if everyone were required to self-quarantine for 14 days as the Centers for Disease Control recommends, effectively pausing in-person instruction.
A delayed start to the semester also gives time for entry testing to control the spread, requiring two negative tests before resuming on-campus activities.
“We know that universities that had entry testing had fewer cases in the fall semester,” Smith added. “But we have found that at least one week and preferably more is needed to complete entry testing prior to activities.”
The off days were carefully selected as well.
“(The schedule) avoids Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays as days off to discourage three-to-four-day weekend travel, and it preserves the end date of the semester, so as not to create conflicts with employment, appointment dates, commencement and the summer 2021 term,” Moorhouse said.
Kevin Pitts, Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate education, said “mental health concerns for our students, faculty and staff” were a driving force in including the three extra off-days.
A few amendments were introduced, and defeated, to add extra off-days, or allow professors to select the days of class for their students to take off.
Many agreed that the proposal would be inadequate to improve the stress levels of students.
“I’m concerned right now, in this current term, about the level of burnout that students are experiencing,” said Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, a theatre professor.
A proposal to add two additional non-instructional days was denied in the senate 35-103, while professor Bruce Rosenstock’s amendment to allow the teachers to select off-days was voted down 11-108.
“We recognize that the schedule isn’t everyone’s first choice, but I believe we are doing as much as possible to balance these competing interests,” Pitts said.