On Sunday, Jane Aiken, the dean of the Wake Forest School of Law, informed law school students that they would not be returning to campus for the rest of the semester, regardless of whether the situation regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) improves.
“The University has decided that classes will remain remote until the end of the semester regardless of how the outbreak progresses,” Aiken said in the email. “With many students currently at home, it could be a hardship to require them to travel back for in-person classes after leaving Winston-Salem.”
With all coursework to be completed remotely, Aiken further explained to students what they can expect in terms of academics. Online classes will be held through WebEx meetings or pre-recorded videos accompanied by assignments and exercises, depending on the preference of each professor. Oral arguments and reviews for midterms and papers will be conducted remotely as well. Clinics and externships will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and students will be offered additional opportunities to earn experiential credit.
In addition to the law students, professors will have to adjust to remote learning. While holding remote office hours and continuing to communicate with students remotely, professors have also been requested to cease all travel and to refrain from scheduling any off-campus field trips or field work for the rest of the semester.
However, the School of Law asked students to register for summer classes on Monday, March 16, in case operations can resume during the summer.
Although the suspension of in-person classes is especially disappointing for third-year law students, Aiken expressed hope in the email that the hooding ceremony and commencement could still take place. She also reaffirmed the School of Law’s commitment to students’ professional development, explaining that the Office of Career and Professional Development and alumni relations team will proceed with remote delivery of information regarding interview preparation and employment services and resources.
Aiken explained that, despite these changes, the School of Law remains faithful to the quality of education promised to graduate students.
“You chose Wake Forest because you recognize the quality of our dedicated teacher-scholars, the personal faculty-student relationship and having a cohesive and committed community,” Aiken said in the email. “We have extensive experience in online teaching, and we are small and nimble. Indeed, we are spending time thinking not only about how we meet these challenges, but also how we can create opportunities for even more learning as we face this pandemic together.”
In the midst of uncertainty and a flurry of virtual communications, the School of Law’s email echoed the sentiments expressed in President Nathan Hatch’s most recent community message.
“Organizations are tested when crises descend upon them – and in recent days, we have faced an organizational tsunami,” Hatch said in the email. “I could not be more grateful and proud of the Wake Forest community for the way it is banding together to meet these profound challenges.”
Even as the School of Law and undergraduate college develop similar strategies in response to this crisis — including the remote delivery of course materials starting on March 23 — the implications of the School of Law’s decision to convert the remainder of the semester into a remote format on the rest of the university remains to be seen.
Although the undergraduate college still has not issued a definitive decision on whether undergraduates will be able to return to campus at all, the School of Law was able to reach a conclusion based on the consideration of different factors applicable to graduate students.
“I can only speak for the law school,” Aiken said in an interview with the Old Gold & Black. “We have graduate students who are from all over the U.S. and the world, many with children and other obligations — these things pose particular hardships for graduate students. Things are changing so quickly, I cannot guess what the [undergraduate] college will do.”