Dear UM family,
Last week, Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian asked that all campuses in the Montana University System plan and design an academic calendar that allows for the completion of the fall semester by Wednesday, Nov. 25, after providing additional guidance for a healthy return to campus for the fall 2020 semester.
As all of us at the University are committed to keeping our students, faculty and staff as safe and healthy as possible, we immediately began the process of determining how we could adjust the fall semester, reduce the risk of infection by the COVID-19 virus and still provide a world-class, affordable and tomorrow-proof education. While all the details are not quite finalized, we will start the fall semester Wednesday, Aug. 19. Final exams — and the last day of the semester — will conclude Wednesday, Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving — eliminating the need for students, faculty and staff travel between the Thanksgiving holiday and the conclusion of the semester. Winter break will last until the start of spring semester, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Consistent with past semesters, there will be a limited set of exceptions to meet clinical and other programmatic needs that are not directly tied to the traditional academic calendar.
This opens the additional possibility of offering a winter session with select online courses you may need to stay on track, catch up or simply take advantage of the extended winter break. We look forward to sharing exciting news about this bonus semester with you soon.
Starting almost two weeks earlier gives us the ability to take advantage of expected lower case rates as well as our excellent Montana weather, which positions us better to complete the academic work of the semester in its entirety — instead of in the middle of what is traditionally influenza season.
A multidisciplinary, cross-divisional task force has done extensive planning so UM will be prepared to implement flexible education options including online and remote, mitigation plans, hygiene measures, screening and, when necessary, quarantine and isolation plans for students who live in our residence halls. We are also in coordination with city, county and state public health entities to identify effective protocols for testing and screening when you return to campus in the fall.
We know these changes raise many questions, particularly around our exam schedule, fall commencement, move-in and orientation, advising and financial aid. We are working through many of those areas and will have answers for you by mid-June. We will communicate with you directly — to your official University of Montana email account and will post all information on our COVID-19 website under the fall 2020 tab. Please check it often for more information.
Please make sure you mark these important dates for the coming year:
- Mid-June — Academic year calendar will be finalized
- Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020 — First day of classes for the fall semester
- Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020 — Last day of classes for the fall semester
- Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 — First day of classes for the spring semester
These decisions were not made lightly and are based on public health guidelines and protocols to mitigate the risk of infection. These decisions were made in consultation with our shared governance and reviewed by University senior leadership, as well as the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education. Additionally, we consulted with the Missoula County Public Schools, the Missoula City-County Health Department and the University’s health care professionals. We also took into consideration feedback from students and faculty this spring semester that finding a safe way to provide a quality, on-campus, in-person education was preferred, when possible.
We understand these changes come with personal challenges for some of you. Many of you are worried about losing an extra week’s pay at your summer job. Some have childcare issues. Still others have transportation or housing issues. We are encouraging faculty to be as flexible as possible, providing hybrid/remote learning options so that if you cannot be back in person Aug. 19 you will still have options. We are grateful for our faculty members’ flexibility.
At UM, we are a family. And families face challenges as one. The health and safety of the UM family is most important. The rest of this is workable.
President, University of Montana