Mercer University announces changes to fall semester to combat COVID-19

Archived+photo+from+October+26%2C+2019

Mary Helene Hall

Archived photo from October 26, 2019

Mercer Bears will return to campus in the fall, but the semester ahead will be anything but normal.

In an email to students June 11, Mercer University Provost D. Scott Davis announced changes to the 2020-2021 academic calendar intended to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. 

While the fall semester will begin Aug. 18 as scheduled, the last day of classes will be held Nov. 24. Classes will meet on Labor Day, and Fall Break will not be observed. Final exams will only be offered online and will take place Dec. 3-4 and Dec. 7-9.

“The revised calendar will minimize travel-associated breaks, meet accreditation-mandated contact hours per credit hour requirements, preserve the general university calendar and minimize online instruction for face-to-face courses,” Davis said in his email.

Mercer is not the first college or university to update the academic calendar for this fall. Responding to potential threats of a “second wave” of the disease that has claimed more than 112,000 American lives, institutions including Michigan State University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University of Notre Dame have scheduled to end their semester or transition to online learning by Thanksgiving, according to Inside Higher Ed. Many schools have also chosen not to offer a fall break.

Angel Colquitt, a senior journalism major, said that a lack of breaks will take both an emotional and academic toll. 

“Every year since I was 12, my dad and I have gone to Atlanta over Labor Day weekend,” they said. “I’ve already missed out on one of our trips we take because of COVID-19, and now Mercer is getting in the way of us getting to go to our convention this year in the chance the convention still happens. It’s really upsetting.”

Colquitt also said that one of the symptoms of their disability is brain fog, a sense of disorientation, confusion, disorganization or inability to concentrate or remember information. Sometimes, it’s hard for them to focus in class or complete assignments. They worry that a lack of breaks could cause them to fall behind.

“I use our breaks during our semesters to catch up on my studying and get ahead on my assignments. I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to keep up with this,” they said. “If my GPA suffers because of this decision, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

A truncated schedule isn’t the only change Mercer students will see this fall. Administration previously announced several new initiatives to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 on campus. 

Some of the changes include “ubiquitous” hand-sanitizing stations, unspecified modifications to dining services, rearranged classrooms to allow for social distancing, contactless temperature checks at entrances to buildings and face masks provided to all students, faculty and staff, according to an email from President Bill Underwood May 21.

Students living in residence halls or campus apartments will be provided thermometers, and Resident Assistants will receive training from the School of Medicine to “continually educate” students on how to reduce their risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.

Underwood also said that by the time students return to campus in the fall, Mercer will have established a lab in Macon capable of administering “up to 1,000 COVID-19 tests a day, with results delivered in hours, not days.”

Rising third-year Adri Rosario said that while she appreciates Mercer’s increased health initiatives, she worries that they don’t cater to residential students who are at high risk for contracting COVID-19 or developing more severe symptoms, especially since most students are required to live on campus under the three-year housing requirement.

“I wish the statement included particular resources for those who are high-risk because without such resources, this population is left behind to make hard decisions for their health and education,” Rosario said. “In fact, I think any student has a right to be nervous about returning to dorms where there are many shared spaces.”

If students develop symptoms, the Mercer Student Health Center will continue to operate a 24/7 hotline that can provide evaluation and, if necessary, referral to a Mercer physician. The hotline can be reached at (478) 301-7425.