The administration made its decision in response to the Hawk the Vote initiative, which was created by undergraduate students with the goal of petitioning the administration to cancel classes on Nov. 3 and implement a campus-wide Day of Civic Involvement. A petition to cancel classes on Election Day received over 1,500 signatures.
Other goals outlined in the initiative include achieving 100 percent voter registration among the eligible student body and ensuring that work responsibilities are not a barrier for faculty and staff members who wish to vote.
But after meetings between the administration, Faculty Senate, the Calendar Committee, Student Senate and Graduate Student SEnate, Provost Nathan Urban announced he would not mandate the cancellation of classes, exams and meetings.
“To avoid additional disruptions, the university will not require campus-wide cancellation of all meetings, classes and tests on Nov. 3, 2020,” Urban said in his email. “I do, however, request that where possible faculty and supervisors reduce barriers to civic engagement on or around this Election Day.”
Urban suggested professors should consider, but not limit themselves to, canceling or rescheduling class meetings on that day, preparing asynchronous delivery of the lesson, and offering general flexibility for students.
David Owolabi, ‘20, creator of Hawk the Vote, was surprised to see any of the recommendations from his initiative addressed.
“From the beginning, we were pushing for some pretty substantial change, and I never expected the administration to appreciate and acknowledge it in this very first semester,” Owolabi said. “With that being said, the plan was always to partner with faculty, to foster a genuine partnership with faculty, so they could cancel their classes without being officially mandated to by the administration.”
Kathy Iovine, professor of biological sciences and chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, said Owolabi presented the initiative on Sept. 4. She said because the presentation did not take place until the second week of the semester, they had a sense that a decision to completely cancel classes was unlikely.
“I hope that faculty are accommodating. I guess since there was support broadly from faculty, maybe not every faculty member, but I think a lot of faculty will provide accommodations,” Iovine said. “So I hope that that does really spur more civic involvement. This election, I think, is so important. I actually volunteered to be a poll worker in my district.”
Iovine said she is hopeful that in the future, classes will be canceled on Election Day.
Steven Wilson, assistant provost for Academic Affairs and registrar and chair of the Calendar Committee, said faculty members agreed that this was an initiative they wanted to support. However, with the academic year already changing to accommodate for the pandemic response, there was ultimately not enough time to implement these changes.
The number one concern the Calendar Committee had was the impact a campus-wide class cancellation could have on faculty. Wilson said many of the faculty members are struggling to keep up with the online teaching environment.
“We were kind of left with, ‘It’s a great idea, but I don’t know that we can make it work with this sort of notice,” Wilson said.