Luther College to welcome students back in the fall with a modified academic calendar

May 13, 2020

Luther College will welcome students back to campus for the 2020-21 academic school year using a phased and modular approach that is flexible and responsive to the changing conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic and directives from government agencies.

            "Luther College is driven by a mission that, in part, encourages students to confront a changing society while learning in community amidst the confluence of river, woodland, and prairie. We move forward with this plan because of its potential to bring us together again in this place so that we may live out that mission," said President Jenifer K. Ward. "While we realize that nothing is certain, 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."

            The proposal was crafted by the Academic Planning Group, a subgroup of the Emergency Response Team and approved by President Ward and her Cabinet in consultation with faculty governance committees and the Board of Regents. This framework has also been shared with Winneshiek County Public Health. The plan allows Luther to fulfill its educational mission while taking into consideration the possibility of a local outbreak and the health of the Decorah economy, which relies on Luther students, faculty and staff being on campus.  

            Luther College's 2020-21 academic calendar will include a September Term (four weeks; one course), a First Fall Quarter (seven weeks; two courses), a Second Fall Quarter (seven weeks; two courses), a Spring Semester (15 weeks; four courses) and a June Term (four weeks; one course).

"The Board of Regents reviewed the options and preliminary plan to support a return to on-campus learning in the fall of 2020," said Wendy Davidson, chair of the Board of Regents and 1992 Luther alumna. "We sincerely appreciate the comprehensive approach to consider multiple scenarios that retain the flexibility to evolve as the situation continues to unfold in the weeks and months ahead, and to provide first and foremost for the safety of our students, faculty and staff while also delivering on the mission and vision of a distinctive Luther College education. We fully support President Ward and her team, and the faculty leadership, for the tireless work they are doing at this unprecedented time in our history."

During September Term, only first-year students will live on campus and participate in face-to-face learning. This plan acknowledges the importance of the first-year experience with respect to persistence and graduation rates while keeping the campus population down. Pending a decision by the American Rivers Conference, fall athletes will also return to campus but sophomore, junior and senior athletes will take classes virtually. All other students will participate in online courses, internships and potentially low-residency courses in Rochester, MN while residing off campus.           

All courses in the two Fall Quarters and Spring Semester will use face-to-face instruction with students residing on campus, unless shifts to online instruction are deemed necessary by Luther College in response to directives and guidance from federal and state governments or state and local public health agencies.             

The June Term will focus on study-away courses (domestic and international) that were originally scheduled for January Term 2021.

Michael Osterholm, Luther class of 1975, 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. Having advised the executive board of the American Council on Education and the executive team at the University of Minnesota on college openings this fall, Dr. Osterholm considers Luther's plan "thoughtful," "aspirational yet realistic" and "doable."

"The creative ways that Luther College has identified to provide quality student education and the means it has considered to quickly alter those plans if conditions with the pandemic suddenly change are right on the mark," said Osterholm. "I am confident that the students, faculty, staff and administration at Luther College, as well as the Decorah community are well served by this thoughtful approach."

Because COVID-19 presents an unprecedented infectious disease risk for all persons, the duration of the pandemic remains unclear, and the situation continues to evolve, Luther is preparing on multiple fronts to protect individual and community health. Preparations include: coordination with local and state health authorities and systems; increased cleaning routines throughout the campus; arrangement of spaces to enable social distancing and protection of frontline workers; acquiring PPE, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, masks, and other protective items for all Luther community members who need them; investigating protocols for testing and contact-tracing methods in case of an infection on campus; establishing quarantine locations for students who may become infected; and other necessary steps.

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