Academic Year 2020-21 Planning Update

June 12, 2020
Dear Grinnellians,
Last week, we shared planning considerations for determining what our fall term might look and feel like in these exceptional times. Today, thanks to the incredible ongoing hard work of many in our College community, we are writing to provide you with more specific information about our fall plans, even as our planning work continues.
First, we want to acknowledge the impact of the immense societal challenges we are wrestling with at this difficult time. We continue to endure a global pandemic that has disrupted all our lives and disproportionately impacted people of color across the country. We are processing the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade; the ongoing global response to their deaths; and the insidious systemic racism that permeates society. We are dealing with a range of emotions, including pain and grief, anger and sorrow. We also are grappling with the difficulty of communicating, sustaining relationships, and living in the midst of ongoing and intersecting crises.
We are incredibly proud of all of you who are reaching out to those in need, who are raising your voices in protest, who remain true to all that we value as Grinnellians. That is what gives us hope for a better future. As we shared last weekwe truly believe that one of the most important ways in which Grinnell College can make a lasting difference is by continuing to uphold our core mission, which is deeply rooted in the belief that knowledge, grounded in values and transformed into action, can change the human condition - that, indeed, this is the only way to change our world.
In this time of immense challenges, our commitment to providing the best possible plan for a new academic year takes on an added sense of urgency and importance. Even though many important details still must be addressed, the model and structure for the year ahead are becoming clear. We share this update with you now to support your planning for the next academic year, with thanks to the many campus partners who have contributed their energy and expertise to this crucial work.

Our Guiding Principles

The Campus Climate Committee subgroup of the Recovery, Stewardship, and Renaissance Steering Committee (RS)2 has helped set forth principles for our community to T.H.R.I.V.E. as we live and learn together in the next academic year. These principles speak both to the immediate present of our community and to its long-term well-being. The T.H.R.I.V.E. principles are:
  • talk to improve transparency,
  • health and safety must remain a top priority for our entire campus community,
  • re-imagine and reconsider what is possible and necessary,
  • inclusion requires flexibility,
  • value all experiences of vulnerability,
  • empathy requires all of us - and especially leaders - to be aware, sensitive, and responsive.
We acknowledge that it is difficult for many to contemplate that this will not be a traditional academic year. We will face significant challenges as we build an academic experience within a public health framework. It will be a year of change and adaptation as we seek to manage the number of students, faculty, and staff on campus at a given time in order to create as safe a campus environment as possible.
We know that no matter how carefully we plan, we must be prepared to exercise flexibility and agility. We also believe that our actions will allow us to maintain our commitment to providing educational opportunities that can change our students' lives so that they can change the world.
We appreciate that every college is working through a range of fall options, and every college's circumstances are different and need to take into account their communities' challenges and needs. Our plans reflect our mission, values, and priorities, and are predicated on our commitment to:
  • provide the best support possible for every student's academic/course progress, regardless of circumstances or location,
  • give us greater flexibility and adaptability to deal with a second wave of COVID-19 or a heightened flu season by managing the number of individuals on campus at any time,
  • take into account the needs of students, faculty, and staff who cannot be on campus due to health or logistical reasons,
  • adhere to the best available public health guidance regarding limiting infection through testing, social distancing, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE),
  • reimagine classroom spaces for faculty and student well-being, as well as multi-modal learning,
  • organize residential spaces to support a new, health-informed sense of community,
  • provide for flexible use of resources, and especially residential space to allow students to quarantine or self-isolate on campus as needed.

Living and Learning as Grinnellians

Below, we outline some of the features of the plan for the 2020-21 academic year. While the plan included here received the endorsement of the Faculty Executive Council and support from the Board of Trustees, it is shared with a significant qualification: These plans are subject to change as, and if, circumstances warrant. We want to provide as much information as we can at this time, knowing that our plan for fall is dependent on public health circumstances.
We ask for your grace, patience, and flexibility as planning continues. We, in turn, pledge that we will provide timely and regular communications as planning proceeds.

Condensed academic units

In consideration of the ever-changing circumstances of a pandemic and because there is still so much unknown about the virus, we are beginning with a cautious approach. Accordingly, the 2020-21 academic year will consist of four 7.5-week terms, spread out over the traditional fall semester (F1 2020 and F2 2020) and spring semester (S1 2021 and S2 2021), with an optional summer (SU 2021) term serving as a means to ensure student academic progress. These shorter terms allow us to start small and incrementally increase the number of students on campus.

Academic calendar

The planned start and end dates for the four upcoming (fall and spring) terms, and an optional fifth (summer) term, are:
Fall 1 (F1 2020): August 24 - October 14
Fall 2 (F2 2020): October 22 - December 16
Spring 1 (S1 2021): February 1 - March 24
Spring 2 (S2 2021): April 1 - May 25
Summer (SU 2021): June 7 - July 28

Managing a low-density campus

It is our hope and intention that every student will be on campus for at least one term during the academic year. Currently, we anticipate having a minimum of between 500 and 600 students on campus for the first fall term. We consider the starting number to be a baseline, rather than a limit or ceiling. We will begin the fall with first-year students who are able to join us in Grinnell so that they can establish a network of peers and community of support. Some upper-class students will be invited to campus during the fall as well. As we learn more, especially following our first term back, we plan to increase the number of students in residence each term. The number of students on campus may increase with better and faster testing, more effective treatment, or a vaccine. We will be tracking public health developments throughout the academic year and using them to assess capacity each term. There will be a modest number of students who will be in residence for the entire year for a variety of reasons. We anticipate that approximately 250 students who have already been approved to live off campus for the fall will do so.

Organizing campus cohorts

We are in the process of identifying cohorts of students who will receive invitations to be on campus during each of the terms. We are taking a variety of factors into account to identify which students will be on campus during a given term. These factors include the curricular needs of students, the technology requirements of teaching and learning, the course offerings of academic units (departments and concentration), and the need to foster and maintain a sense of belonging at the College. As the academic schedule is re-designed to operate within 7.5-week terms, it will likely be early July before we begin notifying students about their academic schedules and which term or terms they will be invited to be on campus. Student Affairs will share specifics about move-in plans as those plans are finalized.

In-person and distance offerings each term

This spring, we were understandably challenged to rapidly develop online courses to support academic continuity. We learned a great deal about what works well and what does not. A student survey is in the final stages of preparation to help faculty and staff understand students' experiences and needs. Faculty members are committed to developing teaching methods that uphold liberal arts principles of deliberation, collaboration, and critical thinking both on campus and online. We have the utmost faith in our faculty's ability to meet this challenge. To maintain maximum flexibility, academic departments will be encouraged to consider offering a mixture of distance courses that utilize either synchronous or asynchronous teaching and learning.

Credits and course loads 

Grinnell College expects students to carry a course load between 6 and 10 credits for each fall and spring 7.5-week term (Fall 1, Fall 2, Spring 1, and Spring 2). Students wishing to carry a term course load below 6 credits or above 10 credits must seek approval from the Committee on Academic Standing. The 2021 summer term will provide students with further opportunity to maintain good academic progress toward graduation.

Resources and support

We remain committed to providing essential tools for distance teaching to all faculty and staff educators as well as essential learning tools to students in need. We will continue to address issues of access equity experienced in spring 2020. We will redouble our efforts to connect students with academic resource centers, labs, libraries, and other campus offices.

Student Life

Student Affairs and the Student Government Association are actively collaborating to create a structure for student life in a pandemic. We have a testing partnership that guarantees capacity for initial and regularized diagnostic (PCR) COVID-19 testing for students, faculty, and staff who will be on campus. In addition to participation in the testing program, College community members on campus will need to consistently practice physical distancing and avoid large gatherings; regularly wear masks, shields, or other face coverings; self-report COVID-19 symptoms; quarantine if they are sick or receive a positive test result; and self-isolate if they have had close contact with someone who has tested positive. Once on campus, students will be asked not to travel outside the local area. If they must travel for an emergency, they may be asked to self-isolate upon returning to campus. In the spirit of shared governance, we are in the process of developing a social contract, whereby we hold each other accountable for these measures.

Co-curricular living and learning

Co-curricular activities constitute an enormous element of living and learning at Grinnell. Performance ensembles, athletics teams, student organizations, and public events all provide opportunities to expand our horizons, to connect with others and build community - in short, it is the stuff of our shared public lives. Just as we are grieving how very much the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to rethink our curricular lives for the coming year, our present situation requires that we reimagine our co-curricular lives. We are continuing to evaluate health and safety considerations for our co-curricular activities and will provide updates as plans develop.


The Midwest Athletic Conference has not yet made a determination about competition for the 2020-21 academic yearWe are committed to supporting athletics continuity to the maximum extent possible within the parameters of public health guidelines, curricular needs, and competition opportunities. Although we are unable to make specific plans at this time, our athletics faculty and staff are actively considering what it means to be an athlete in the midst of a pandemic as well as how our athletics program might function within our reconstructed academic calendar.
We know this is not how you might have expected to begin, continue, or complete your college career. These plans have been made with the intent to offer the most rewarding educational opportunities we can during these difficult times. You will likely have many questions about your individual circumstances. Additional information about the academic calendar, the benefits of full-time enrollment, part-time enrollment, personal leave, requesting a deferral or gap year, tuition rates, and more is available on our Information for Students and Families webpageFor any questions not answered there, students should contact one of the offices listed on the Resources and Support for Students webpage.
Please know how committed we are to your academic progress and success. All of the measures outlined above are designed for educational and developmental continuity so that students do not have to lose any time or momentum in their academic progress. This pandemic will end, and we will be ready to forge ahead with our full Grinnell experience when it does.

Our Way Forward

As ever, the College is committed to keeping Grinnellians informed in a timely manner about official decisions related to College operations. Our goals are transparency and inclusion. You can anticipate a number of detailed communications over the course of the next few weeks.
We are heartened by the support that members of this community are giving to each other. We are ever grateful for you, and send our best wishes for your continued health and well-being.
Raynard S. Kington, President
Anne F. Harris, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College
Photo of COVID-19 virus under microscope

Academic Year 2020-21 Planning Update

Latest Updates

Weekly COVID-19 Testing Clinic Update: July 26, 2021

All students are required to upload their COVID vaccination documentation (unless they have received an exemption from Director of Health Deb Shill). Students, and any employee who wishes, can upload this documentation using the instructions below. Student reporting is currently at 84%.

Weekly COVID-19 Testing Clinic Update: July 19, 2021

Results for the week of July 12, 2021: 0 student positives; 0 faculty/staff positives. 514 employees and 575 students have reported that they are vaccinated. Overall vulnerability in Poweshiek county is very low, as is the number of cases.

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Results for the week of July 5, 2021: 0 student positives; 0 faculty/staff positives. 506 employees and 564 students have reported that they are vaccinated. Immunity in Iowa is also on the rise, now over 66%. Nationwide immunity is estimated at 70.21%.

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