Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Hello everyone!

Welcome to the English Department’s COVID-19 news page.

This is a webpage created by the English Department to provide a convenient, centralized place for our students to come for English Department-specific news related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For College-wide updates, please visit the College’s coronavirus page. If you have any questions about the contents of this page or the English Department’s response to the pandemic, please do not hesitate to contact me, the department chair (Bernie Rhie), by email. For those of you who are English majors, I also encourage you to reach out to your major advisors with any questions or concerns you might have (click here for an up-to-date list of advisor/advisee pairings).

I will also be holding two virtual drop-in office hour sessions (on Zoom) for any of you who might have questions about the fall (parents are welcome, too). One this Wednesday, July 1, from 7-8pm Eastern Time, and another a week later (Wednesday July 8, 7-8pm ET). Please feel free to come for just part of the time, and please don’t worry about arriving late or leaving early. Use this Zoom link to join.

Below you will find relevant news and updates (even an FAQ section!), which will be updated over time. If you know of anyone who is wondering about how the English Department’s policies have been modified in response to the pandemic, please refer them to this page.

Other places where you can go for updates and news about the English Department:

Wishing you all health, safety, and peace,

Bernie Rhie

Sneak peak of courses to be offered in English and related academic units in 2020-2021:

Modified Department Policies (just for 2020-2021):

  • Degree and major requirements: There is a nine course minimum to earn any degree in a major at Williams, including a major in English, and that number is fixed and firm, established by the College as a whole and beyond the control of the department. But the English Department is happy to be flexible when it comes to our internal major requirements. If you anticipate having any difficulty, because of disruptions created by the pandemic, fulfilling all of the major requirements, please contact Bernie to discuss your situation. We don’t want our students to feel blocked from earning their degrees in English because of circumstances beyond their control, especially during these unprecedented times. We are happy to be flexible and eager to work with you to help you successfully complete your studies in English at Williams.
  • Typically, courses taken pass/fail cannot be used towards a major, unless the P/F course was the first one taken towards the major (according to the Registrar’s website, here is the exact wording of the usual P/F policy: “No course counting toward a major, certificate, or concentration can be taken pass/fail unless this course is the first one taken toward that credential.”) However, in recognition of the challenges our students may be facing during this pandemic, the English Department is happy to make an exception for courses taken during the academic year 2020-2021 (and of course, there has already been an exception made for courses taken during the spring of 2020, which were all converted to pass/fail). Courses taken P/F during Spring 2020, Fall 2020, and Spring 2021, can now be used towards the English major. There is no need to make a request about this. This exception to the traditional P/F rule is automatically granted to all students enrolled at the College in 2020-21.
  • Enrollment caps for most of our courses have been lowered for the fall. There was a widely shared sense this past spring (among both faculty and students) that once we went remote, smaller classes worked better than bigger ones. So, courses that traditionally have 19 student caps (like 100-levels and Gateways) will now be capped at 14. And 300-level seminars that are usually capped at 25 will now be capped at 16. Traditional tutorials will stay capped at 10 and creative writing workshops at 12. These numbers aren’t binding on faculty, and some will choose to cap their courses slightly differently, but in general, you’ll find that our fall classes will be smaller than they have been in the past.


  • Q. Why are so few courses being taught on campus (i.e. hybrid)? A. As the Chair, I don’t have a good answer to that, because I myself don’t know the reasons why each professor decided to teach remotely or hybrid. Happily, the College gave each professor the freedom to decide for themselves which mode of teaching was best for their circumstances, no questions asked. Some other colleges and universities are pressuring their faculty members to teach on campus, making professors who are worried about teaching in-person apply for special exemptions (often requiring medical documentation). In fact, I have friends who teach at some of these schools, and they are worried and anxious about having to teach in person against their will. (See this June 30 article in Inside Higher Ed for more on how this is playing out at other institutions; or this July 3 piece in the New York Times.) Imagine being taught in person by a professor who you worried might not actually feel safe being there? That would be awful, wouldn’t it? So, even though I don’t know why my colleagues who are choosing to teach remotely have decided to do so (I consider this their personal business, and not mine), I can say that I’m very glad to be teaching at an institution that has given my colleagues and me the freedom to decide for ourselves what is best for each of us, at this unprecedented moment in history.