On Oct. 1, President Rodney Bennett announced a new, shorter calendar for next semester. In the email, Bennett said he accepted a joint recommendation from the Provost, the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Vice President for Student Affairs to approve a condensed academic calendar for the 2021 semester.
“These changes are in line with national trends supporting health and safety, in an effort to limit travel and help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19,” Bennett said in the email.
Spring classes will still begin on Wednesday, January 20, and regular instruction will conclude Thursday, April 22. The modified schedule eliminates Mardi Gras break and Spring Break. Two new student holidays will be added instead, taking place on Friday, Feb. 19, and Friday, March 19. A university-wide holiday will also be observed on Friday, April 2.
“Navigating this pandemic has certainly brought with it unexpected challenges, and I share in the disappointment of another difficult decision that impacts our graduates and their families,” Bennett said. “But I continue to be encouraged by the ways in which our Southern Miss family meets these challenges with determination and commitment – together.”
Amy Chasteen Ph.D., the Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, said the original academic calendar was planned before the pandemic began, so Southern Miss made adjustments in fall to shorten the semester.
“We waited on decisions about spring term until we got into fall and [saw] how the pandemic developed,” Chasteen said. “As we approached advisement for spring, we looked at what universities were doing nationally and in our state and made the decision to again shorten the semester and eliminate longer holidays.”
Anton Martin, a senior communication studies major, said he has been extremely stressed over work and online classes this semester. However, Martin also said not having a Spring Break is not the worst thing to happen.
“If we get out [of school] a week early — I still don’t like it, but I’ll take an extra week of summer,” Martin said.
Martin said students still need days off, though. School is a lot, especially when professors give students a lot more research projects and extra homework due to online learning.
Chasteen said students have given feedback that they need and want more breaks during the spring semester, which they have worked to include. The newer holidays allow Southern Miss students to have a Friday off every three to four weeks.
“That decision is different from many other institutions and one we believe will be to the benefit of our students,” Chasteen said. “We will also be working with faculty as we near spring term to ensure that we do not have assignments or tests due on those long weekends so that they can be true breaks, and we want to encourage students to really take that time to unplug and engage in some (safe) activities for their physical and emotional health.”
Even with these added breaks, though, Chasteen said it was important for students to take care of themselves during the pandemic. Physical self-care, such as getting exercise, eating well and prioritizing sleep, is important to keep from burning out. Chasteen said the less we take care of ourselves physically, the easier it is for schoolwork to get overwhelming.
Kevin Walker, the Director of the Academic Success Center at the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus, said he has noticed changes with students in the classes he teaches and those that use the Academic Success Center. However, he does not know if those changes are related to fewer breaks.
“I think it is important to remember that ‘fewer breaks’ is only one thing that makes this semester ‘different,’” Walker said. “Adjusting to new ways of life in general can make things more tiring than the usual exhaustion university students experience.”
Walker is generally in favor for this condensed spring semester. He believes it would allow for students to search for jobs earlier than some other schools. For example, he said that education and licensure majors can apply for and receive their licenses earlier than usual. This would give students the chance to apply for jobs earlier, as well as a competitive edge.
Bennett also announced in the email that graduation will look a bit different in the spring semester. The expanded schedule for May’s Commencement ceremonies are as follows:
- Monday, May 3, 7 p.m. – Undergraduates in the College of Nursing and Health Professions
- Tuesday, May 4, 7 p.m. – Undergraduates in the College of Education and Human Sciences
- Wednesday, May 5, 7 p.m. – All Graduate Students
- Thursday, May 6, 7 p.m. – Undergraduates in the College of Business and Economic Development
- Friday, May 7, 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. – Undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences
- Saturday, May 8, 3 p.m. – All Coast-based Undergraduate and Graduate Students
“I sincerely appreciate your patience and your ongoing engagement as we work to ensure not only a successful end to our Fall 2020 semester, but also a productive Spring 2021 term,” Bennett said.