Schrödinger’s Spring Break

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Photographs courtesy of News.uis.edu

Image of Chancellor Whitney

Spring Break has always been an extremely popular school holiday. Many students take the time to relax, and what that looks like varies across the student body. Some students go home for the week, others stay on campus, and the lucky ones get to go away for an exciting vacation. Yet, in this atypical year, the possibility of a typical Spring Break went out the window. COVID-19 is an opportunistic virus and with any travel comes the risk of contracting it.

The discussion around Spring Break has been extensive. On Oct. 9, the first inklings that the spring calendar would be changed were presented to the Campus Senate. Resolution 50-08 was presented by the Spring 2021 Planning Committee, which stated that classes should be delayed by one week by shifting Spring Break to the beginning of the semester. The resolution stated: “the proposed modification to the Spring 2021 academic calendar will minimize risk of exposure to COVID-19 following the dispersal and return to campus by members of the university community associated with a mid-semester recess.” While the Spring 2021 Planning Committee had the best intentions with this resolution, it failed in Campus Senate.

After it became clear that Spring Break was in the process of being cancelled, the Student Government Association came together to create a proposal on behalf of the student body. The Internal Affairs Committee convened to discuss this important issue and the proposal that came from this committee clearly indicated that cancelling Spring Break was not what the student body wanted. It stated that mitigation efforts should be taken instead of cancelling this much-needed break, such as immediate testing once students are back on campus and for students who leave campus to notify the school.

The committee realized that a back-up plan was needed in case this recommendation failed. The proposal created in case Spring Break had to be cancelled was that students needed two extended weekends throughout the semester, and what would have traditionally been Spring Break would be an instruction-only week with no deadlines during said week. This dual proposal was passed by the entire Student Government Association.

The next development on Spring Break occurred on October 23. The Spring 2021 Planning Committee recommended a new plan to the Campus Senate, which was that the first two weeks of the semester be delivered remotely and that students have March 16 and 17 off (the Tuesday and Wednesday that would have been during the traditional Spring Break) and May 6 and 7 off, which would be “Reading Days…during which neither classes nor exams may be held and no projects, papers, or assignments may be due.” This proposal was more advanced than the previous one, yet still failed to pass the Campus Senate. In this same meeting, Dr. Magic Wade moved to create a proposal to allow the first two weeks of the semester to be delivered remotely, as well as the two weeks after a traditional Spring Break. This proposal did pass the Campus Senate.

While the proposal was agreed upon by those in Campus Senate, it failed to adhere to the concerns of those in charge of maintaining the public health on the UIS campus. Those who work hard to make sure all members of the UIS community stay safe during this pandemic rang the alarm that this proposal would allow the uninhibited spread of COVID-19, and their concerns reached Chancellor Whitney, who understood why Spring Break is so important to many people at UIS but could not deny how dangerous a traditional Spring Break could be during the age of the coronavirus. Considering all of this, she moved forward by consulting with the Student Government Association at their in-person meeting on Oct. 25, the general public on Oct. 29 and then the Senate Executive Committee on Oct. 30.

At the Senate Executive Committee, it was made clear that a decision needed to be made about Spring Break. A traditional Spring Break could not take place safely, so a compromise had to be made. With much discussion coming from the members, different senators and Dr. Bilyeu (one of the main people at UIS working to contain COVID-19) a middle ground was reached. The final recommendation made by the Senate Executive Committee was that “[d]uring the first two weeks of the semester, all classes should be held remotely. Five non-instructional days as follows: Tuesday, March 2 and Wednesday, March 3; Monday, April 26; Thursday, May 6 and Friday, May 7 (Reading Days).” This gave the needed cushion to those on campus to get tested and be quarantined at the beginning of the semester and will allow strategically-placed breaks. This plan lowers the chances of students leaving campus and potentially contracting the virus.

On Monday, Nov. 2, the Chancellor released her statement stating that she will follow the recommendation made by the Senate Executive Committee. While not everyone will be pleased with this outcome, it was made to keep the campus safe and only came after a long process of shared governance.

Is it possible for Spring Break to be both alive and dead at the same time? A traditional Spring Break may not happen, but a break during the spring will. It may not be what everyone wished for, but at least there will not be a spring semester of straight instruction with no pauses.