Message to Luther Students Regarding 2020-21 Academic Calendar

To: Luther College Students and Parents
From: President Jenifer K. Ward
Re: 2020-21 Academic Calendar
Date: May 13, 2020


Dear Students and Parents,

On April 30, I asked the Luther College community to consider not IF but HOW and WHEN we will return to an on-campus, residential experience in the fall. I write today to share with you a revised 2020-21 academic calendar.

With this revised calendar, we are planting a pole around which together we can erect the rest of the tent. Much of our planning over the coming months depends upon the structure of the academic calendar, and we are making this decision now in order to allow faculty and staff the time needed to prepare for residential learning in the fall amidst an unfolding pandemic.

Before we get into the details of this revised academic calendar, I want to remind us of what drove our thinking and planning. As Luther College considered potential responses to the global coronavirus pandemic, our selection of an academic calendar is not only about form and function but also a matter of mission and identity.

Luther College’s mission statement affirms its identity as a residential college and a place of intersection, where learning in community amidst the confluence of river, woodland, and prairie enlivens students, faculty, and staff and equips them to understand and confront a changing society. We are an inviting and encouraging community that exists in a place that facilitates exploration. This combination of people and place gives students an education that opens limitless possibilities, fosters purposeful living, and prepares them for courageous leadership that elevates people, communities, and society.

In our planning for 2020-21, therefore, we needed an approach that enables the highest possible degree of face-to-face instruction and residential living in the Driftless region of Northeast Iowa during the 2020-21 academic year, while also protecting individual and community health and remaining flexible to unfolding pandemic conditions and governmental directives.

The revised academic calendar temporarily adjusts Luther College’s 4-1-4 format to 1-2-2-4-1. It employs compressed periods of instruction in the fall to provide a flexible and responsive approach in a sequence that accommodates the projected trajectory of the pandemic in Northeast Iowa. The revised calendar has a Fall Semester that includes September Term (1-2-2-4-1; 4 weeks; one course), First Fall Quarter (1-2-2-4-1; October and November; 7 weeks; two courses), and Second Fall Quarter (1-2-2-4-1; December and January; 7 weeks; two courses). Spring Semester (1-2-2-4-1; February through May; 15 weeks; four courses) follows the schedule and format identified in the original 2020-21 academic calendar. June Term (1-2-2-4-1; 4 weeks; one course) corresponds with Summer Session I in the original 2020-21 calendar.

September Term

September Term features a phased approach to returning students to campus. During this term, first-year students will participate in face-to-face instruction on campus in their First-Year Seminars. All other students will reside off campus and participate in online courses or internships. However, pending affirmation of the fall athletic schedule by the American Rivers Conference, fall athletes, as well as Resident Assistants, would also reside on campus with sophomores, juniors and seniors taking coursework online. By privileging the first-year experience, we acknowledge its importance to persistence and graduation rates and the special needs of these students, the newest members of the Luther College community.

First and Second Fall Quarters

The two Fall Quarters return all students to campus for face-to-face instruction and residential living on campus. The modular approach of the Fall Quarters provides flexibility in the event of an additional wave of the pandemic. Should a shift to online instruction at any time in the fall be deemed necessary by Luther College in response to directives and guidance from federal and state governments or public health agencies, students would only participate in a maximum of two online courses at a time. Music ensembles and lessons will be stretched across the entire period of the fall quarters (October through January).

Spring Semester

The Spring Semester returns the campus to more normal operations and schedules, social distancing measures notwithstanding. Depending upon the trajectory of the pandemic, Spring Semester may be adjusted to incorporate two Spring Quarters; this decision will be made in October.

June Term

June Term will be focused upon study-away courses (domestic and international) that were originally scheduled for January Term 2021. Study-away courses offered in June Term provide an opportunity for these courses to be retained in the 2020-21 academic year at a time that is likely to be more viable for international travel (especially compared to September 2020 and potentially for January 2021).

The decision to adopt the revised academic calendar was made by me and my Cabinet following consultation with the Board of Regents, faculty governance committees, academic department and program leaders, and the Emergency Response Team. The revised calendar has also been shared with Winneshiek County Public Health. Fifteen different calendar models, each with permutations for start date (normal and delayed) and instructional format (face-to-face, online, and mixed delivery) were considered by the Academic Planning Group of the Emergency Response Team. We are confident that this revised calendar best ensures continuity of our mission and commitments to individual and community health. Michael Osterholm, who chairs Luther College’s Board of Regents Academic Affairs Committee and serves as the Director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, has advised the executive board of the American Council on Education and the executive team at the University of Minnesota on college openings this fall -- he considers Luther’s revised calendar “thoughtful,” “aspirational yet realistic,” and “doable.”

I acknowledge the significant impact of the revised academic calendar upon all students, faculty, and staff as we now shift efforts toward implementation. We know that you will have many questions and perhaps some concerns. We are committed to enabling students to graduate on time next year, and we will work with each of you individually on graduation requirements that may be difficult to fulfill with these changes.

Over the coming days, we will share further details of the plan with you, beginning with the process to adjust course schedules for the two Fall Quarters. Students will receive a message from the Registrar’s Office with details by early next week. Presently, the Dean’s Office, in collaboration with the Registrar, is working with the faculty on revising fall course schedules and identifying classroom spaces and practices that allow for social distancing. Ensemble conductors and athletic coaches are working with their professional organizations to plan for music and athletics in the time of a pandemic. Health Services, Residence Life, and Facilities are coordinating with local and state health agencies and making plans for increased cleaning routines throughout the campus.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will provide regular updates to you on progress and developments. In the meantime, I ask for your patience and collaboration. As you receive this plan, I further ask you not to measure it by what is ideal but rather what is possible in this moment. All students, faculty, and staff at Luther College will need a mindset that exhibits flexibility, compassion, grace, and an openness to experimentation, as well as one that defers to the timing of the virus. As projections, conditions, and directives change, so, too, must our plans and strategies.

Luther College is not defined by an academic calendar. Luther College is a people bound together by a mission with enduring impact. We move forward with this plan not because of any certainty it provides but because of its potential to bring us together again in this place so that we may live out that mission. We step confidently and courageously into the future, knowing that the pandemic will continue to challenge all aspects of “business as usual” and that we have the ability to find innovative ways of being, learning, and working in its midst.


President Jenifer K. Ward