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UW to eliminate spring break, lengthen winter break to prevent COVID-19 spread

UW to eliminate spring break, lengthen winter break to prevent COVID-19 spread

UW Buildings 082720 07-08282020115837

Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pictured on Aug. 27.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Faculty Senate voted Monday to lengthen winter break and remove spring break next semester, in attempts to discourage travel that might facilitate the spread of COVID-19.

The resolution extends winter break by one week and pushes the start of spring semester from Jan. 19 to Jan. 25, regardless of whether classes are held online or in person. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the plan, with 140 senators voting for it and seven against.

Spring break was originally scheduled for March 27 through April 4, 2021. Under the new calendar, there will be no classes on March 27 or April 2 and 3, allowing for an extended weekend mid-semester without changing the total number of instructional days.

Provost Karl Scholz called the resolution “the best of an imperfect set of proposals” for the spring, saying the university wishes to reduce travel and prioritize the health and safety of its community.

“Given the global pandemic, I think this is a very wise piece of policy regardless of the modality that we operate in the spring term,” Scholz said. “It’s very telling that many of our peers around the country are also adjusting the spring academic calendar.”

Professor and University Committee chair Kirsten Wolf said that making the change now will give faculty and teaching staff sufficient time to make the necessary preparations for the spring. The UC previously voted unanimously in support of the resolution.

She added that the new schedule allows more time for people who may have left town over winter break to quarantine upon return.

Students and faculty senators offered mixed feedback at the meeting, including the concern of mental well-being for both students taking classes and parents whose children may be home on spring break.  Alternative suggestions included starting on the original schedule and ending a week early, or moving classes fully online after spring break, as the university plans to do this fall after Thanksgiving break.

Citing potentially higher risk of virus spread in the winter than the spring, Scholz said it made sense to “take advantage of warmer weather” later in the year. More importantly, he said it was important to keep the last day of spring semester intact, given the unknowns of graduation and senior activities.

Student government representatives also cited mental health as a top concern. Though the Associated Students of Madison did not present a formal stance on the issue, chair Kevin Jacobson pushed for a decision that prioritizes public health and engages students in shared governance.

Agronomy professor Bill Tracy spoke in favor of the resolution, saying it allows the best option to reduce risk of further disruptions.

“If we remove spring break, that gives us the best chance of having a normal graduation and senior year for students,” Tracy said. “We don’t even know if we’ll have an in-person graduation, but we all want to.”

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