Dear members of the FAS community,
A little over a year ago, we left campus. Undergraduates packed up their belongings and said their goodbyes months earlier than planned, having no idea what would come next. Faculty, researchers, and graduate students abandoned their offices, labs, and studios and canceled their travel, classes moved online, and staff began to work from home, as we became for a time a completely “remote” community. From that moment on, we have been working tirelessly, across all departments and programs, to chart a path back to campus.
Through our many adaptations, we have been able to restart more and more campus-based activities while keeping our community safe. I am proud of how we have met this moment and grateful for the hard work of the many faculty, staff, students, and researchers who have contributed to the success of our efforts over the past year. But our overriding goal has always been a full return to campus and reaching that goal now feels not only possible but imminent. Promising downward trends in infection rates, encouraging new CDC guidance on the impact of vaccination on public health practices, and the aggressive rollout of vaccinations across the nation have brought a new sense of hope that the end of this challenging period is in sight. Encouraged by these positive developments, we are expecting a full return to campus in Fall 2021 and our planning is focused entirely on how to restart all campus-based activities safely. Much of the planning is still ahead of us, but I want to share our expectations of the fall experience and our understanding of what is required to make that experience possible.
Please note: We anticipate releasing final plans for the fall semester in late May.
Undergraduate Residential Program
Our expectation is that all College students will return to campus-based learning this fall. We are planning for a return to regular, full density accommodations in the Houses and Yard and to accommodate a larger number of students in Harvard-affiliated housing on or near campus, if needed. Contingency planning is underway to enable this residential return even if reduced density is required. We also expect full density occupation of on-campus graduate student housing.
Curriculum and Academic Resources
Our expectation is that all Harvard College and GSAS students will return to in-person learning and faculty, teaching fellows, and other instructional staff will teach on campus. Should public health conditions necessitate adaptations to in-person instruction this fall, we will be prepared to support course staff in teaching safely, including limited teaching in other modalities, informed by the lessons learned from our spring hybrid teaching pilots. Similarly, our expectation is that the full range of academic resources will be available in person this fall including libraries, archives, museums, and research facilities. To make this fall plan possible, we will prioritize operations that directly support our in-person teaching and research activities.
We are eager to welcome our international students back to campus, but we also recognize that they may face particular hurdles. Students should confidently apply for visas knowing that we will offer in-person instruction. We recognize that some students may confront delays in visa processing that impact their ability to come to campus and the College and GSAS will work directly with these students to help them navigate their program options.
Return to Campus for Staff
As you saw in the message from President Bacow, Provost Garber, and Executive Vice President Lapp, the University is targeting Monday, August 2, as the date when staff, faculty, and researchers will all be authorized to return to campus. This means that Coronavirus Workplace Policies remain in place and the University will continue reviewing its policies heading into this transition period. In the FAS, staff in some units have been transitioning back to campus over the past year as campus-based research and other activities have expanded. In units that are directly involved in summer programs and preparations of our campus for a fall return, such as the College, additional staff are now making this transition. As the University message stated, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Individual units will be engaged in planning for the return of their remote employees to campus based on their departmental needs and priorities, adopting a variety of flexible approaches and varying return-to-campus dates. Your Administrative Dean and local leaders will share guidance as it becomes available regarding transition plans and work expectations. More information is available here.
We have set an ambitious goal for the fall, but the experience of the past year, in which we have had to reimagine nearly every aspect of our operations, has given us a running start in reaching it. But as excited as we are to return to something approaching normal operations, that prospect is also attended by real challenges. As a School, we know that our fall plans will require further investment at a time when financial resources continue to be constrained and spending is limited to the essential. As individuals, there is a lot about this that is hard. Planning to work, teach, and carry out research in person can provoke anxiety after a year of diligent masking, distancing, and handwashing. That we assume some of these practices will still be needed this fall is also a sad reminder that the pandemic will still be with us in some form. Returning to campus also reminds us of the things that did not happen this past year, from lost athletic competitions to lost Commencement traditions in the Yard. And many of us carry a sense of loss and of mental strain from the worry and uncertainty we have faced. As we confront the myriad challenges of navigating the path back to campus, we continue to be guided by the same fundamental principles—to put the health and safety of our community first, protect the academic enterprise, leverage our breadth and diversity, and preserve access and affordability—that have grounded us since the start of the pandemic.
Of everything we need to be successful this fall, the most important pre-condition for a full return to campus-based operations is you. Our fall plan is predicated on faculty, teaching fellows, and instructional staff being here and ready to teach on campus; students filling the classrooms, performance spaces, and practice fields; staff advancing the mission through the work of their programs and units; and research groups gathering around the lab bench or in the archive. We are eager and excited to have you here, but more than that, we need you. The coming year will be an important time of transition. This year has changed us, individually and institutionally. We know we cannot recapture the campus experience of 2019. We can only move forward, bringing all we have learned from the past year to the project of rebuilding our campus-based identity and defining our new normal. We need your spirit of experimentation and your willingness to pilot and to change. They are not only welcome, they will be necessary as we endeavor to live up to the full promise of our mission in this moment in history.
We will continue to provide updates as planning continues this spring and will share a comprehensive decision in late May addressing the full range of issues from re-entry protocols to housing, public health protocols to financial aid, and more. Today, students will receive more information about their programs directly from Harvard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The latest updates on planning are available online here.
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences