Whitman’s unique two week spring break is being shortened to one week. The college decided to shorten the break to limit student and faculty travel due to COVID-19 concerns. The full 2020-2021 school year schedule is available on the registrar’s webpage, which shows spring break will now take place March 22-26.
In addition, the starting date for spring semester 2021 was pushed back one week — from Jan. 18 to Jan. 25 — to account for that lost week of spring break. The schedule change was decided by both the Committee of Division Chairs/Faculty Leadership and the President’s Cabinet.
Barry Balof, the Chair of Faculty and mathematics professor, confirmed that this scheduling decision was not finalized until fall semester moved completely online.
“This decision was discussed as part of planning for the year, but was not formalized until after we made the decision to conduct the fall semester via remote learning,” Balof said. “The decision was tied to a start date for the spring semester.”
Winter break has also been extended by a week to potentially facilitate a phased movement back to campus. Pushing back the start date of spring semester also grants additional time to account for what the college hopes could become more favorable COVID-19 conditions that allow all students to return to campus.
The 2021 commencement date was already scheduled for May 23, and cannot be moved. Those who decided upon the date stated that this event is scheduled year-to-year and cannot be changed because plans have already been made by families and the college.
Lynn Sharp, a history professor, shared her perspective on the schedule change as a faculty member. While shortening spring break is meant to prevent students from traveling off campus, Sharp argued that students and faculty still traveled over the October four-day break.
“It doesn’t make full sense to me because four-day happened and students left campus, or students who were in Walla Walla left Walla Walla, [and] so did some faculty,” Sharp said.
Sharp shared that the faculty are not currently focused on the change and are considering other issues.
“I think some people are slightly annoyed, but I think it’s kind of low on our radar,” Sharp said. “We’re trying to deal with the big issues, and that one isn’t falling into the big-issues category at this point. It hasn’t been a topic of conversation amongst my faculty friends, and there hasn’t been any discussion about it on the faculty floor.”
Sharp said that professors have different opinions on Whitman’s two week spring break, and she predicted mixed feelings about this change. While some faculty enjoy the additional time an extra week gives them, others argue that it’s too long of a break that interrupts the mindset of school.
Sharp also emphasized the lack of control faculty had in decision-making on this issue.
“We don’t actually have any choice in this,” Sharp said. “The faculty has absolutely no say in the final decision on the schedule.”
While unable to guarantee any permanent changes, Balof discussed the possibility that this new spring break length could become permanent.
“Because the decision on the calendar takes place yearly, we will work again in those groups to lay out plans for the 2021-22 academic year,” Balof said. “That is to say, the decision is not necessarily permanent, but it may become standard practice in the future.”
According to The Seattle Times, many colleges have already announced their plans to cancel spring break entirely next semester to prevent student and faculty travel. Many schools have also pushed back the start date of spring semester in hopes for more favorable COVID-19 conditions during the new year.