UNI announces shift to Spring Semester


When Parker Sherwood learned that his freshman year at UNI would not include the long-standing tradition of spring break, he was surprised but not opposed, he said.

“I was a little shocked to hear that spring break was cancelled, but I knew it would be for the best,” said Sherwood, an undecided major. “Stupid people do stupid things on spring break.”

The cancellation of spring break was one of several major coronavirus-related changes to the spring 2021 academic calendar announced by UNI administration on Monday, Sept. 14. Other modifications include the postponement of the second semester start date to Monday, Jan. 25 (a two-week delay) and the addition of optional three-week and six-week winter term classes in December and January.

In an email to the Northern Iowan, Provost Jim Wohlpart explained that by delaying the start date, UNI officials hope to create a buffer between the holiday season and the return to campus to avoid students bringing COVID-19 back to UNI.

“Students, faculty, and staff may gather with family and friends over the holiday,” he wrote.

He noted that since the new start date is more than three weeks after the holiday period ends, “this gives a period within which anyone who might contract the virus from these gatherings would move through contracting it and, hopefully, getting over it.”

The modified calendar was actually a positive sign for Sherwood, an encouraging signal that the university is projecting a continuation of in-person learning for the spring.

“I’m kind of glad to hear that there’s changes, because that means that there’s plans for us to be here in the spring,” he said.

His peers, including freshman undecided major Kayley Gehrels, agreed.

“I’m just glad they’re allowing us to be on campus for the second semester,” she said. “I was happy about that, because I wasn’t sure that was a thing that was going to be happening.”

The changes to UNI’s spring academic calendar align with similar moves made by Iowa’s other two Regents universities.

The University of Iowa and Iowa State University also cancelled their spring breaks, and both likewise plan to return for spring classes on Jan. 25. For ISU, like UNI, this will be a two-week delay from the typical start date, as opposed to a one-week delay at the University of Iowa.

Both ISU and UNI also plan to end their spring semesters together, with finals to be held May 3-7. However, the University of Iowa will end its semester one week later, on May 14. This means that students and faculty on the Iowa City campus will be following the traditional 15-week semester schedule, while their peers in Ames and Cedar Falls will operate on an abbreviated 14-week plan, thus receiving one week less of instruction.

The situation is similar this fall, since UNI and ISU returned for classes one week early but eliminated two weeks of instruction after Thanksgiving break, thus losing one week of instructional time and placing the campuses on a 14-week schedule. The University of Iowa, by contrast, maintained its traditional calendar, although the final two weeks of instruction after Thanksgiving break will be conducted online.

Asked to comment on the discrepancy, Wohlpart stated that the 14-week semester still meets government and institutional requirements for completing the credit hours assigned to each course.

“In regular semesters, before the virus, we provided an extra dose of enrichment with an extra week of classes and learning,” he wrote. “Our scaled back semester actually aligns our semester with the expectations of our accreditation commission and the federal government.”

At all three universities, students will experience an extended winter break, something which Gehrels said piqued her interest.

“I was intrigued that we would have a two-month break in between, which seemed like a long time,” she said.

Winter break at UNI will indeed last exactly two months this year, as fall classes conclude on Nov. 25 and spring classes resume on Jan. 25. However, it likely won’t be a “break” for everyone, as UNI also announced that students will be able to take three-week and six-week winter term classes via distance learning.

The select classes offered could be either Liberal Arts Core (LAC) or major courses, according to Wohlpart.

“We want to provide an opportunity for students to get the courses they would need to move successfully towards graduation,” he wrote. “If there are courses in a major that are commonly a bottleneck, we might offer a section during winter term which would allow students the opportunity to complete that course.”

During either of the two three-week terms, which will take place from Nov. 30-Dec. 18 and Jan. 4-22, students may take up to three credits of coursework. The six-week term will last from Nov. 30-Jan. 22, with a two-week break from Dec. 21-Jan. 1, and students may take up to six credits.

Wohlpart clarified in his email that UNI does still plan to offer a May term in 2021, despite the addition of the winter term.

Winter term classes will be part of students’ spring course load in terms of credit hours, tuition and billing. More information about these classes will be available through individual departments and when the spring schedule of classes is released.