UMass Law Dean Eric Mitnick announces plan for Fall 2020 reopening

In-person and online instruction to begin on August 20

Dear UMass Law Community,

After a months-long planning process involving over one hundred faculty, staff, and students across ten working groups as well as feedback from the UMass Dartmouth community, UMass Dartmouth has announced its plan to reopen for the Fall 2020 semester with a blend of in-person and online learning:  https://www.umassd.edu/emergency/coronavirus/fall-planning-2020/. With UMass Dartmouth’s plan as our framework, I write to announce UMass Law’s plan for a blend of in-person and online instruction in Fall 2020.

Our plan has been informed by the thoughtful comments of the many students who have reached out to me and other members of the UMass Law administration, faculty, and staff, whether individually or on behalf of student groups, as well as by the participation of law students in several of the UMass Dartmouth working groups. As always, we appreciate and welcome your feedback.

We recognize the challenging nature of our abrupt and involuntary transition to online learning in Spring 2020. Whatever the fall may bring, UMass Law faculty and staff are spending significant time this summer developing and participating in training sessions to ensure that any online learning that takes place in the fall, whether as part of a blended course or a fully online course, meets our high standards. We are also developing, in conjunction with UMass Dartmouth’s CITS professionals, resources to prepare students to maximize their participation in online learning.

Safety First

Our decision to include in-person learning in our instructional model reflects the strong desire that many students and faculty members have expressed for an in-person educational experience. On the other hand, our top priority has been and continues to be the health and safety of our entire community. Many aspects of the in-person experience this fall will be quite different from the in-person experience last fall or from the in-person experience that will be possible once the public health crisis has passed.

In all safety-related matters, we will take our guidance from public health officials and our campus health and safety specialists. In-person class size will be reduced and the number of available seats in each classroom will be drastically limited to ensure physical distancing in classes. Different student cohorts will come to campus on different days to minimize the number of potential contacts. And students participating in in-person classes must agree to abide by a set of protocols including strict physical distancing, wearing face coverings, daily self-monitoring and symptom reporting, assisting with those performing contact tracing as needed, and subjecting themselves to virus testing where required (these university protocols are under development and will be announced as soon as they are finalized).

Student Choice

Despite all these measures, we recognize that the COVID-19 public health crisis and the steps
taken to respond to that crisis, not just at UMass Law but across our society, may make inperson
participation effectively impossible for some. Some students may face especially
serious health risks, while others may discover they are unable to travel to Massachusetts from
locations within or outside the U.S. UMass Law is committed to enabling all of our students to
begin or continue their legal education regardless of their circumstances or location.

Students who need to participate entirely remotely will need to complete a Fall 2020 Online
Learning Request Form, available here: https://www.umassd.edu/law/students/forms-policies/
(click on the “Fall 2020 Online Learning Request Form”). No medical or other documentation is
required. Continuing students must submit this form to LEC@umassd.edu by July 15. Incoming
first-year and transfer students must submit the form by July 15 or within one week of your
deposit deadline, whichever is later.

If you have questions about completing the form or your options more generally, as an initial
matter please contact Assistant Dean for Students Julie Cahill at jcahill2@umassd.edu or 508-
985-1105), and Dean Cahill will assist or direct you to someone who can help.

Class Schedule

As a result of the measures described above, our class schedule for many courses will change.
Some courses will shift to a blended instructional model, with one class on campus and one
online. Some courses will shift to entirely online learning. We expect to announce the revised
class schedule by August 1.

Returning students will then have the opportunity to submit add/drop requests to the LEC
throughout the month of August, in addition to the usual add/drop period at the start of the
semester, while incoming first-year students will be registered for the traditional first-year
curriculum. We will also work with incoming and continuing students on an individualized basis
to ensure the most appropriate course schedule for each person’s circumstances.

Academic Calendar

Our first day of classes remains Thursday, August 20, but we will follow the University’s plan to
end in-person instruction before Thanksgiving. After the Thanksgiving break, remaining classes
and exam review sessions will take place online and final exams will be proctored remotely.

For incoming first-year students, we expect to offer online orientation sessions starting in late
July, limited on-campus orientation sessions on either August 17 or 18, and online orientation
sessions on August 19. You will be receiving more details regarding your orientation schedule
soon.
 

Next Steps

Here is what you can expect over the next two months:

  • By July 15, any student may elect fully-online participation as a result of the COVID-19
    public health crisis by completing the Fall 2020 Online Learning Request Form, (available
    at https://www.umassd.edu/law/students/forms-policies/) and submit it to
    LEC@umassd.edu.
  •  By August 1, the law school will publish its revised Fall 2020 class schedule.
  •  From August 1 until August 19, upper-level students may submit add/drop forms to the
    LEC to request specific class changes. The standard add/drop period will begin on the
    first day of classes and will be available through COIN as in prior years.
  • UMass Law will provide updated information as it becomes available. Review the latest update that will answer many of your questions.
  • Classes will begin on Thursday, August 20.

Caveats

As always, we will monitor advice from public health authorities and will shift to entirely
remote instruction if that becomes necessary for the health and safety of our community. Given
the rate of speed with which the public health situation has tended to move, it is important for
all members of the UMass Law community to bear in mind that we may need to shift to fully
remote instruction at any time, including prior to the start of the Fall 2020 semester. Although
we hope that does not happen, the model we are adopting for Fall 2020 will make it
significantly easier for our community to make such a shift.

Regardless of any particular mode of instruction, for our continuing students, I very much look
forward to welcoming you back this fall, and for our incoming first-year and transfer students, I
look forward to welcoming you to the UMass Law community!


Best regards,
Eric J. Mitnick
Dean & Professor of Law



Law School, School of Law