COVID-19 creates uncertainty for future terms

Molly Sweeney

Due to COVID-19, J-term, spring break and the spring semester are looking to have a different structure this year. As of right now, the Augustana Strong committee is in the process of deciding how the next couple of months will look like, although a final decision has not yet been made.
However, Dr. David Snowball, chair of communication studies, said that the decision for whether or not J-term and the spring semester is online is not completely up to the administration, but up to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
“If HCL says no, everything on campus stops. We can’t do [online learning] without their permission. The second decision we have to make is if we have the path to go online, is that the safest decision for our students and our community?”
As of right now, there are several questions the academic administration is considering as we move forward. 
“If we’re advised or decide that spring break is a serious health risk, what do we do? Do we drop spring break and compress the term and start spring a week late? If we start spring a week late do we want to start J-term a week late so that people have more time at home? Or do we want to have a little break between spring and J?” Snowball said. 
The Augustana faculty are included in the discussion of whether to have online or in person classes for J-term and spring semester, according to Dr. David Crowe, english professor.
 “There is a questionnaire out right now among the faculty asking about scheduling spring semester. We’ll all be involved in that so they won’t have to send us a notice about it, we’ll be in the faculty meeting that makes the decision or the recommendation to the administration,” Crowe said. 
One important consideration that the administration must make is how to ensure that international students, both currently at Augustana and those in their home country, are able to attend in person classes, assuming we are not online. 
According to Xong Sony Yang, the director of the office of international student and scholar services, a survey will be sent out soon asking international students what their plans are for the breaks.
“We are allowing [international students] to stay here if need be, and as the international office we have a responsibility to be transparent with our students,” Yang said. “We have a responsibility to let them know what the regulations are with travel if they do return home, what the likelihood is that they can return if their country shuts down. I think that’s a real conversation we need to have with them.”  
Not only is it important to be especially transparent right now, but it is also vital to inform Augustana students immediately when a decision is made.
“International students are anxiously waiting for guidance and a decision to be made so that they can purchase their plane ticket home or so that they can make alternative plans for family,” Yang said. 
Although a decision has not yet been made, it is important to be hopeful right now what Augustana will stay open and allow students the opportunity to do in-person learning. There is hope that this shared hardship on campus right now will help the community grow  stronger.
“It is possible that one impact of our current unfortunate circumstances is that we will rise to the moment and we will spend more time caring for each other,” Snowball said.