At the end of May, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced that the FAS had launched an extensive scenario planning process to develop a range of potential options for how to safely bring students and scholarship back to campus. We are on track to make a final decision about fall plans by July.
While the goal of returning to campus is simple, determining how best to achieve it is much more complicated. The members of the FAS Scenario Planning team, and the 11 working groups that support them, have been working tirelessly over the past several weeks to develop possible paths forward to adapt the pursuit of Harvard’s teaching and research mission to the changed circumstances of the fall and beyond.
It is important to acknowledge that graduate and undergraduate programs are confronting very different situations. Like Harvard’s professional schools, our graduate programs must find ways to adapt their program requirements, like coursework, teaching, and research, as well as mentoring and apprenticeship, to a pre- vaccine world. These adaptations must account for a host of complications and limitations, from visa and travel issues for international students to access to collections and laboratories without which academic progress for some is simply not possible. For undergraduates, we must confront these same issues and also add another big challenge—the context of a fully residential program where 98% of our students live together in dorms and Houses and participate in a broad range of extracurricular activities in addition to their courses of study. As a result, particular focus has been needed on the unique challenges posed by our residential undergraduate program and the differences among the pathways currently being considered are tied to this particular challenge.
Three possible pathways are currently under consideration for resuming residential operations. They include a path that starts the fall semester with a low-density campus, much like our current state of operations; a medium-density path that brings 30-40% of undergraduates back to campus; and one that begins with a quick return to a high-density campus that would welcome back all undergraduates for the fall semester, as described below. Importantly, all three pathways share the following common set of assumptions:
- All pathways assume that regardless of where our students are living, whether on campus or at home, learning will continue to be remote next year, with only rare exceptions. The overwhelming reason for this decision is our commitment to protecting the academic enterprise and preserving academic continuity for all of our students. Continued remote instruction ensures that academic continuity for all students is maintained, even if travel restrictions, visa issues, or health considerations keep them away from campus. We also recognize the difficulty of holding in-person classes while still conforming to guidance from public health authorities.
- All pathways assume a change to the academic calendar. While the two-semester system would be maintained, breaks during the semester would be removed to minimize travel in and out of the campus community during the term.
- All pathways assume frequent testing of the campus community and changed campus norms that embrace new public health practices. Regardless of the pathway chosen, there is a recognition that our community norms will have to adapt in order for our public health practices to be successful. The greater Boston area remains a hot spot for the virus, and social-distancing, masking, and other public health practices will be a part of campus life for the foreseeable future. We will each need to make these practices a regular part of how we contribute to the health and safety of our community.
Regardless of the path chosen, some members of our community will return to campus this fall, and the campus they return to will not be the one they left in the spring. We have already begun the phased process of resuming our research activities in our labs, libraries, and museums that incorporates changes to facilities and community expectations that are adapted to public health guidance. We are learning important lessons from this process about how to reduce the risks of community transmission while maintaining a vibrant and active research community. Practices piloted during the resumption of research—like the universal masking protocol and baseline testing needs—are helping us determine what is possible for our residential experience in the fall.