Merrill College

FAQs: Merrill College Spring 2021 Semester

(UPDATED 1/20/2021)

Philip Merrill College of Journalism students, faculty and staff members were remarkably resilient during Fall 2020. Thank you for following mask and social-distancing rules. Together, we’ll get through another challenging semester. Please see updated answers to frequently asked questions about how we are proceeding amid the pandemic.

1. Will Knight Hall be available for journalism students to use as a study space this spring? Will the News Bubble be open?

Our goal throughout the coming semester is to keep our students, staff and faculty members healthy. Knight Hall will be fully open in the spring for the courses being taught either face to face or in a hybrid format. While there may be a few evening courses held in Knight Hall, the building will normally be open only during general business hours (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

You will not have to be enrolled in a face-to-face or hybrid course to use Knight Hall facilities. If all of your courses are online, you will still have access to Knight Hall. But Merrill College facilities will only be available to students taking journalism courses.

Our 24/7 News Bubble will not be open around the clock as usual during the spring semester. In fact, the large room we have been using as the News Bubble (just inside Knight Hall’s main entrance) will continue to serve as a classroom in the spring. Smaller labs (KNIGHT 1101 and KNIGHT 2107) will be used as News Bubbles, and will be equipped with computers and software needed by our photography, videography and digital-design students. The capacity of those rooms will be five students, who will be allowed to use the Bubbles for no more than three hours at a time. We will have a process in place for managing the space and tracking its use.

Any student can use KNIGHT 1101 and KNIGHT 2107 for studying during general business hours, and they must follow campus social-distancing and mask protocols. You must sign up to reserve a spot by sending an email to For sanitary reasons, the News Bubbles will only have screens, so you will have to bring your own keyboard and mouse if you plan to use the Bubbles. We will be checking out keyboards and mouses to students, so you will not have to buy them. Students must also bring their own keyboard and mouse to all classes in KNIGHT 1200.

We also hope that students will be able to study during general business hours using four large armchairs distantly spaced in the atrium and four or five distantly spaced stools along the atrium wall. Rules will be clearly posted and we will allow studying in Knight Hall as long as everyone follows campus social-distancing and mask rules. 

These arrangements are nearly identical to the Fall 2020 setup and they seemed to work well.

2. Will the university supply COVID vaccinations?

We hope so. On Jan. 8, the head doctors at the University Health Center distributed a letter saying the university is working on a vaccination plan. We’re confident they will continue to keep everyone updated at The university will follow state and county guidance. The Provost has told the deans to tell all of you that if you can find a covid vaccine elsewhere, take advantage of it and get it as soon as you are eligible.

3. If all of my classes are online, why do I need to pay Merrill College’s professional fee?

We understand why you asked, but moving most of our courses online has necessitated that we buy additional equipment and software, as well as make changes to how some of our classrooms are designed. For example, because of the changes to class formats, we have had to retrofit several large spaces in Knight Hall to fit our needs for social distancing and online/in-person hybrid teaching.

In addition, Merrill College is very proud we have been able to allow students to check out video, audio and podcasting equipment so they don’t need to purchase their own. However, on many mornings before the pandemic, this resulted in long lines of students returning checked-out equipment at Knight Hall. To keep our students safe and healthy, we purchased more camera and audio equipment so most students can check out this equipment for the entire semester. This allows us to reduce the number of students clustering in the tighter spaces near the Knight Hall checkout room and reduce the time needed to sterilize equipment between uses, plus it allows us to maintain the equipment we already have.

Also, as mentioned above, students will be able to check out a keyboard and mouse for use in the building during the entire semester. 

4. Will students be able to check out equipment?

Yes, you will check it out for the entire semester. Go to to select a pick-up time. For more information, please see the answer to question No. 3.

5. Will students be able to cover events in person for campus organizations?

Student groups such as The Diamondback, The Left Bench and Stories Beneath the Shell are independently run entirely by students, so rules for interviews will come from the leaders of those activities. 

6. Will students be able to do interviews in person for class assignments? 

Your instructors have been told to craft assignments that can be done outdoors or using technology such as phone interviews or Zoom/Skype calls.

Interviews conducted outdoors with the reporter and source wearing masks and standing at least 6 feet apart will be allowed. Likewise, photo and video assignments conducted outdoors with COVID-19 safety precautions are acceptable.

In general, Merrill students will not be allowed to interview sources indoors for classroom assignments. Individual instructors must reach out to the associate dean for academic affairs for permission if a crucial assignment must be performed indoors. Students with safety or other concerns about assignments should contact the associate dean for academic affairs (Rafael Lorente,

7. Is it OK to cover things and conduct interviews in person for my internship?

Each employer has its own rules for in-person interviews, although most have been conducting interviews via telephone and Zoom. If you have any concerns that your employer is not being mindful of your health, please contact Adrianne Flynn, Merrill College’s internships and career services director (

8. Will the “Off the Record” cafe in Knight Hall be open? 

No. But the vending machines have been stocked by dining services.

9. Will advising appointments be in person or continue to be virtual?

Although the student services office will be open Monday through Friday, advising appointments will continue to be conducted online.

10. Will instructors teaching online or in person be available for in-person office hours or one-on-one meetings?

This will vary by instructor, as instructors are not required to visit campus if they have health reasons for avoiding contact. However, all instructors will have office hours either physically or via Zoom or cell, or will be available to set up meetings using other technologies. Please check the syllabus or ask your instructor, and be aware this could be subject to change (such as if an instructor needs to quarantine). Please note meetings may take place in a large space different from the usual office location. Also, note that if a student needs to meet virtually, that need will be accommodated.

11. Will there be any faculty or staff members in Knight Hall on a daily basis?

We anticipate that Merrill College faculty will work from home offices, unless they are teaching one of our in-person or hybrid classes. Some faculty members may also arrange for face-to-face meetings with students in one of our large seminar rooms or in the Knight Hall courtyard behind the building. This system worked quite well during Fall 2020. Merrill College’s staff will work in the building on a rotation in an effort to keep occupancy of Knight Hall below 35%. At least one member of Merrill College’s senior staff (dean, associate dean and assistant deans) will be working in Knight Hall every weekday.

12. I’ve heard there are going to be even more COVID-19 testing requirements for the campus this spring. How will that work?

We’ve heard that, too. All information about COVID-19 testing, quarantining, mask requirements and other health-related policies will come from the main administration of the University of Maryland. For the latest information and updates from UMD, visit

13. One or more of my classes is listed as meeting in person. How will you deal with social distancing?

All Merrill College classes that meet in person (for all or part of the course) will be held in rooms that follow social-distancing and other rules, including wearing masks at all times. The college has implemented systems to make the classrooms as safe as possible. President Pines reports that none of the campus COVID cases during the Fall 2020 semester appear to have originated in a classroom.

14. How often will in-person classes meet?

Testudo may list classes as “in-person,” but some “in-person” classes may be somewhat hybrid/blended in nature due to limits of how many people can be together in a large classroom. Check with your instructor for details. Also be aware that these plans may have to be modified depending on the trajectory of the epidemic. All instructors must keep to their scheduled times, whether meeting in person or in a synchronous class over Zoom. The college has asked instructors to let students know their plan for in-person and hybrid/blended classes.

15. Will online classes meet at the scheduled time?

Instructors may meet for online classes at the scheduled time on Zoom (synchronous), although some instructors will not use the time to meet as a group and provide learning material in a different way (asynchronous). We are encouraging instructions NOT to lecture for a full class period on Zoom but to think of creative ways to engage students through breakout rooms (Zoom rooms), exercises, guest presenters, etc. Instructors CANNOT ask you to meet synchronously as a class outside the scheduled time.

16. What if one or more of my classes is meeting in person, but I don’t think I can return to campus? I am particularly concerned about fulfilling my requirements for my degree!

You should hear from your Journalism instructors who are teaching in person or in blended/hybrid format before the first day of class. If you do not hear from your instructor, please contact him/her/them to see if there is a way to participate fully in the class virtually. (Check with graduate or undergraduate studies if you cannot find an email address for the instructor.) We realize this is a frustrating situation, but we want to work with you to meet your needs.

17. I’m really disappointed that all or most of my classes are virtual. Can I switch into classes that will meet in person?

Our ability to offer in-person instruction is limited by the need for social distancing in the classroom (which means we have relatively little classroom space) as well as the fact that high-risk faculty members can choose to not teach in person. We have invested a lot of effort in making online teaching more vibrant, with 26 faculty members participating in recent projects in online innovation. There MAY be some limited ability to move sections, but we will not know this until a large number of students make their final decisions about coming to campus in the spring.

18. What happens if I have to go into quarantine?

All Merrill instructors must have a plan to deliver the course virtually to those in quarantine. So if you’re in a class that meets in person and have to go into quarantine, the instructor will find a way for you to continue in the class virtually (all instructors have been asked to set this up in advance). 

19. What happens with my journalism class if I get COVID?

As with any illness, accommodation will be made. Our first concern is your health and that you get better fast. Please work with your individual instructors and note that all courses have a plan to switch to virtual delivery due to the pandemic. We will follow the usual procedures for accommodation for illness (such as extended deadlines, etc.).

20. What happens if a family member gets COVID and/or there are other duties that I need to fulfill as a caregiver?

As with any family emergency, accommodations will be made. Please work with your individual instructors and note that all courses have a plan to switch to virtual delivery due to the pandemic. We will follow the usual procedures for accommodation (such as extended deadlines, etc.). In the case of long-term illness or hospitalization in the final weeks of your class, your instructor may suggest an Incomplete contract to give you time to complete assignments after you have fully recovered.

21. What if I think I just can’t handle this and I’d like to take a semester or a year off?

We understand. This is a very difficult time and that is a very personal decision. You should make the right decision for you. Stay in touch with us. We will be here when it’s time for you to return.

22. How are instructors going to lecture in masks?

We realize it can be hard for a lecturer to project and be understood while wearing a mask. Lecturers may use microphones for classes that will be taught in our larger classrooms.

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