F&M Abruptly Announces Major Fall Decision—Sophomores Required to Study Remotely, First-years Will not Return in the Spring

By Daniel Robillard || Investigative Reporter & Ruby Van Dyk || Editor-in-Chief 

On Monday night, the F&M Leadership Team released the most major update yet to the College’s fall reopening plan, announcing that the entire sophomore cohort would not be allowed to return to campus. If the pandemic continued to restrict the College’s ability to return normally in the Spring of 2021, Sophomores would be permitted to return to campus while first-years would be required to study remotely. The Sophomore cohort (class of 2023) had 627 students in the fall of 2019 and, with F&M’s annual first year retention rate factored in, would be expected to be around 570 students in the fall of 2020. With about 23% of F&M students originally electing to study remotely or commute and an additional 3% deferring or taking leaves of absence, around 400 students who may originally have planned on returning to campus will now be spending their fall semesters taking classes online.

The decision comes as many students awaited more details on move-in dates, housing assignments, and testing details. Although President Altmann announced new updates to move-in dates posted to the College’s website, exact move-in dates and other details about housing still remain unclear for most students. For all returning students, the College announced a three-day window with “details pending based on location,” while the more than 400 first-year students expected to arrive on campus in the fall will be split between two move-in days, August 20 and August 21.

Despite these new updates, F&M still appears to be far less prepared than most of its other colleague schools in Pennsylvania. A look at the websites of 12 other small private colleges and universities in Pennsylvania shows that students at those schools already know their exact move-in times, have been given detailed information on housing assignments and move-in procedures, and have been provided with specifics on how and when they will be tested.

Meanwhile, F&M has yet to provide students with most of these details, and the only update on testing that students have been given is Altmann’s announcement of an unsigned, pending contract during the virtual Town Hall last Tuesday, July 28. The several hundred students who live in F&M-affiliated off-campus housing—of which many are planning on moving-in during the next two weeks—have still not been given any indications of when or how they will be tested, despite many having spent the entire summer living next to campus.

Monday’s decision came as a shock to many as the College had, up until the announcement, given every indication that all class years that had wished to return to study on campus would be able to do so. “This news comes extremely unexpectedly—to us as the student government and the study body at large,” Shubh Punj ’21, the Diplomatic Congress President said.

“Diplomatic Congress offers our support to all sophomores who are dealing with Monday’s news, as well as all first-year students who learned that they will likely not spend their entire academic year on campus” Punj told The College Reporter shortly after the announcement was made.

According to Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett, “the decision was made last Friday” as the administration “watched as students’ housing preferences were evolving towards more singles and we wanted to insure that the ‘in residence’ experience was on campus—not at an off-site hotel.” Hazlett also noted “the number of states on PA’s hot spot list continues to grow” and said that the College was “watching those guidelines evolve and work[ing] to respond to them.” Sophomores who may wish to reconsider their decisions for the fall semester will still be allowed “to opt for a leave of absence past the July 20 deadline” Hazlett said.

Now, many sophomores planning on returning to campus will now have only two weeks to prepare themselves to study from home for the fall semester including Amani Dobson ‘23,“I was saddened. My home environment is a difficult place to get work done, and I was looking forward to being able to be in a new setting for this upcoming semester. My on campus job is also lost because of this which means I have to search for a new way to make money while I’m home doing remote learning.” said Dobson. For first-year students the announcement seems less dramatic as they are still permitted to come to campus in the fall. “It certainly is disappointing to have my time on campus cut short, and I really feel for the sophomore class too. However, I’m still so grateful that I’ll be able to spend any time on campus at all because that’s a privilege that not every student enrolled in an American college has.” said Alison Waller, an incoming freshman. 

The surprise nature of the decision mirrors the behavior of many other Colleges in the last few weeks, who have begun to walk back their plans for a fall semester return, either partially or fully. Last week, American University, Georgetown University and George Washington University, all located in D.C. announced they would be reversing their plans and moving almost fully online. Other schools such as Duke and The University of Pennsylvania have revised their plans, limiting the amount of students on campus and classes taught online.

Other small private schools in Pennsylvania have also been ahead of F&M in de-densifying their campuses. For example, Swarthmore College announced in June that only first-years and sophomores would be permitted to arrive on campus for the fall semester. According to The College Crisis Initiative at Davidson University, seven of F&M’s peer institutions have now decided to go fully or primarily online for the fall semester, with nearby schools like Dickinson and Lafayette recently reversing their decisions to return to campus and moving online. 

As Senior Administration continues to work out details regarding testing protocol, quarantine, housing accommodations and so on, Monday’s announcement shows that further drastic changes may still be coming. 

Junior Daniel Robillard is an Investigative Reporter for TCR. His email is drobilla@fandm.edu

Senior Ruby Van Dyk is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is rvandyk@fandm.edu.

August 4, 10:45AM Update: Dr. Caniglia informed The College Reporter on Tuesday that the College had signed a contract with the Broad Institute on Friday to provide all of the College’s testing for the fall.

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