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Smith College Will Offer Only Distance Learning This Fall

The gates of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
File Photo
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com

Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, had planned to bring a reduced number of students back to campus for the fall semester, and give faculty the choice of teaching online or in person. In a reversal, the college now says it will offer only distance learning.

In a letter to the Smith Community this week, college president Kathleen McCartney said she knew many students would be "profoundly disappointed."

But since COVID-19 cases are rising in the state and country, McCartney said, she feels the only responsible decision is to teach all classes online, for the sake of students, employees, and the surrounding area.

"I think we have a civic duty to the communities in which we live and work," she told NEPM. "And by limiting the number of students and employees on campus, we are helping to mitigate potential exposure to people beyond our community, as well."

McCartney said students can still take a gap year if they wish, but she expects most will stay enrolled.

Although there will be no room-and-board charges, McCartney said tuition will not go down to accommodate the change.

"It costs just as much to provide a Smith education remotely as it does in person," she said, "and we think the quality of instruction will be high, and also the value of a Smith education remains high."

McCartney said Smith will not reduce its financial aid budget of $82 million, "so our students should be fine."

Smith music professor Steve Waksman was among those relieved by the decision, even though he had already planned to teach his classes online.

"While faculty can protect themselves, not everybody else can," he said. "There are a lot of other Smith employees who have to come into contact with students in order for the campus to run."

That said, Waksman acknowledged the challenges in teaching remotely — such as finding a time of day that works well across time zones, and creating a satisfying online experience.

So far, the training sessions for Smith faculty are "not really that much geared towards pedagogy," Waksman said. "They're really more geared towards the technical side of teaching with online tools. But the technical side is not really the part I'm worried about."

McCartney said the college is stepping up its efforts to create virtual connections among students and alumnae, and will hold many online events to build a sense of community.

She said about 60 students, including international and non-traditional students, have remained on campus since the pandemic started, and will continue to do so.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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