Academic planning update for 2020-2021

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke College community,

I am writing with an update on our academic planning for the 2020-21 academic year.

On April 14, President Stephens announced the formation of an Academic Planning Group (APG) to consider the best approach going forward to provide an outstanding Mount Holyoke liberal arts education amid the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic. This group, which includes faculty, staff and students, was guided by the principles spelled out in President Stephens’ message and reviewed a wide range of scenarios and options.

We continue to develop plans for a resumption of in-person on-campus instruction. However, as the pandemic continues to evolve, the College must prepare for every eventuality. Even with the best-case scenarios, we know that a significant number of our students likely will need to access the curriculum remotely. Furthermore, to protect the health of our community, we will need to enact specific protocols to address health and safety concerns for students, faculty and staff alike. 

After considerable discussion and review, and informed by student and faculty focus group feedback, the APG presented a recommendation that was endorsed with broad and deep support by the faculty yesterday afternoon. The direction our planning will take for next year will be academic semesters divided into two seven-and-a-half week sessions.  Students will take two courses in each session, with an option to take an additional two-credit course or independent study. We will offer a complete and rich curriculum with a full range of courses. 

This model is the most flexible and adaptable to the many health, safety, pedagogical, enrollment and financial challenges that we may face. This model is fully accessible and inclusive for all of our students, whether they are on campus or remote, reflecting our shared commitment to supporting every student’s academic progress. We will be spreading out class times and increasing our ability to manage the physical distancing that likely will be required to resume any in-person instruction safely. The broader range of class times also permits those students who cannot return to campus to access courses and learn remotely, across many time zones, with a schedule that is manageable. This model also allows us, should health and safety conditions allow, to bring more students to campus by creating appropriate intervals in the academic schedule.

Understandably, there are many details to explore. The APG has developed several working groups to address these matters and we will provide full details to the community in early July.

Our faculty and staff are excited to resume our teaching and support for all students in the coming academic year. Although the pandemic has disrupted life as usual, Mount Holyoke continues to draw upon its mission of providing an intellectually adventurous education in the liberal arts and sciences. 


Jon Western
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty
Carol Hoffmann Collins '63 Professor of International Relations