No Fall 2020 instruction plan is going to be ideal. My institution’s “Smart Restart” plan seems to maximize disruption in the near term, creates more potential for disruption of instruction later in the fall, and exposes faculty, staff, and students to grave public health risks.

In the near term, students who have already enrolled will have their schedules altered to adjust for evening and Saturday in-person meeting times. Students whose schedules have been set since April will now likely have to swap & drop courses to mitigate conflicts with other courses, work, practice for ensembles, and so on. Given how long it took to make this decision, this enrollment turnover seems likely to coincide with students new to campus in the fall (first-year or transfer) beginning to enroll in their own schedules.

Instructors in some courses will be asked to switch their pedagogy mid-semester, once again. Sure, they have more time to plan this change now, but instructors are still being asked to create the infrastructure for both an in-person and online version of these courses. Planning for online instruction to last just a few weeks actually compounds the burden of setting up those courses.

Students will again be asked to change their own modes of learning midway through the term. This is particularly disruptive for students with accommodations. The University must now develop, test, and fully support accommodations for each course in every format offered throughout the term.

In the event of a public health emergency on campus, in the local community, or in students’ home communities, adaptations that shift instruction to an online format earlier than Thanksgiving will be disruptive. Despite its stated commitment to testing, the University is taking on a massive risk for community transmission. What happens to a class if a student tests positive? Will it immediately move to online instruction during contact tracing/quarantine period? Or the instructor? Who teaches the course then?

Suspending in-person instruction after Thanksgiving is a sign that UW’s leadership doesn’t trust students — rightfully so, I think — and doesn’t want to risk an outbreak when students return, post-Thanksgiving. This just begs the question: why do these leaders believe students can be trusted to abide by campus public health guidelines & community standards prior to Thanksgiving?