We’re more than five weeks into our Spring semester, and there’s not much Spring to see around our campus! Not that unusual for Indiana, of course.… For those of you who have family and friends in Texas and other southern states, we hope they have come safely through the challenges of record-setting snows and cold temperatures. While we navigate winter weather, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact all of us, but we are making progress as nearly one million Indiana residents have received at least their first dose of the vaccine. So, with better weather approaching, and much hope on the horizon, lots of discussions about the future are underway on campus.
New to many of you will be the exciting proposal to add a January Term to our academic calendar (you may have read about this last week in Purdue Today). The idea of a “winter session” has been considered before. However, earlier proposals scheduled the winter session over the holiday break, which undermined support for the idea. Given continued student and faculty interest, a broad-based group has been working on a new calendar that would create a four-week January Term by reducing the Fall and Spring semesters from 16 weeks to 15 weeks and delaying the start of the Spring semester by a couple of weeks.
The new “J-Term” would permit students to take a class they otherwise can’t work into their regular schedules or one they need for timely academic progress. Students could use the J-Term to study abroad or earn a credential that rounds out their Purdue education. We’re exploring any number of possibilities. Academic year instructors who teach during the J-Term would be compensated for their work in the same manner as the Summer session. (Regular academic year pay for faculty, staff, and graduate students would not be impacted.) The J-Term would be entirely optional for faculty and students but would create really interesting opportunities for both. Talking with individuals across campus, it is clear that this J-Term provides welcome flexibility in our academic calendar and takes us a big step closer to the goal of becoming a year-round university.
We have been working closely with the University Senate and the Purdue Student Government on this idea and will hold a virtual discussion about the January Term on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 1:00 pm. You can find a draft proposal, more information on the session, and a form to send us any questions you have here.
The Board of Trustees Equity Task Force presented an update on their work at their Feb. 5 public meeting. Trustee Don Thompson praised the effort of the 150-person task force and provided an overview of the group’s recommendations. In general, the report will be organized around three themes: representation, experience, and success. The recommendations will address each of these themes for students (undergraduate and graduate), staff and faculty. In doing so, the recommendations will focus on enhancing the representation, the experience, and the success of Black Boilermakers across campus. The work of the Equity Task Force is being considered one of the Purdue Moves initiatives, and implementation will be accountable to the Board. Please watch for more details on this important effort in the coming weeks.
Finally, we are well into planning for our Summer session and Fall semester. Given where our Medical Advisory Team believes we will be by late August with respect to vaccinations and immunity more broadly, we will take another step toward a full residential experience in the Fall. We plan to be back at or near normal classroom densities and to follow our normal Fall calendar. We will almost certainly still be wearing masks indoors, with additional PPE in certain situations. We are working to determine how testing/tracing protocols will look when a very large portion of our campus has been vaccinated. That said, as President Daniels and I tried to make very clear in our campus letter, all of these plans are dependent on the path of the virus, impacts of any variants, vaccination program success, etc. We will continue to follow the best science and public health guidance available and will be ready to pivot from these plans if conditions change.
As always, my thanks for all you are doing to keep our campus safe and well. While hope is on the horizon, we cannot let our guard down for a heartbeat, and we need to continue to exercise discipline in following the Protect Purdue Plan. Doing so will help us navigate the Spring semester successfully and create real momentum as we begin to emerge from this pandemic and pursue the exciting opportunities in front of us.
Stay safe and well.
P.S. Congratulations to Briony Horgan, associate professor of planetary science, and her students for their role in the successful Mars rover Perseverance landing/project! Just incredible science and technology. You can check out some amazing footage of the Mars landing here.