Looking Ahead to Fall

August 6, 2020
Dear colleagues,
On July 6, we announced our plan to invite up to 40% of our undergraduates to campus for the fall semester. We also described a number of public health practices and campus adaptations that this plan would require in order to ensure the health and safety of our community while also protecting our academic enterprise. With less than a month to go before the start of the fall term, I am writing today to share an update on our implementation of those plans and our approach to the ongoing management of our pandemic-adapted environment.

Now that undergraduates have made their choices for the fall, we have a better sense of how many students will be in residence. With the exception of first-year international students, all first-year students were invited to learn in residence this fall. Additionally, all undergraduate students were invited to submit a Learning Environment Questionnaire (LEQ) if they believed they did not have the needed conditions to learn successfully in their current environment. This process resulted in some upper-level students also being invited to learn in residence. A special team of advisers was assembled to help students and families who were considering a deferral or leave of absence. While our plan prepared us for as many as 40% of our typical undergraduate population learning in residence, we are currently anticipating a residential cohort size of closer to 25% based on the number of students who have accepted our invitation to learn on campus.
As of today, our projections are as follows:

  • 5,231 total undergraduates intend to enroll.
  • 1,168 first-year students in residence.
  • 464 upper-level students in residence.
  • 3,599 students remote.
  • 340 first-years deferred. 
The Administrative Board is reviewing requests for Leaves of Absence on a rolling basis and it would be premature to provide an estimate of expected leaves at this time.
Enormous resources are being devoted to preparing for the safe arrival of our undergraduates, with intense work happening at every level of the University. Spikes in the numbers of cases and hospitalizations in communities across the country have triggered some revisions in fall plans at other colleges and universities. We believe we can open as planned, though we recognize that, even at this lower than anticipated level of density in the undergraduate program, careful planning and effective ongoing management will be essential to our ability to successfully contain the spread of the virus on campus. As an evolution of the emergency response and planning efforts that have been underway since early March, I have launched the FAS Pandemic Planning and Response Group to provide ongoing management, oversee implementation, and direct adaptation as needed. This new management team, which I chair, meets weekly to monitor key indicators; coordinate pandemic management activities being carried out within the College, GSAS, Athletics, Harvard College Library, and the Academic Divisions; coordinate with University advisory bodies and working groups; and address policy issues that may arise in the course of our pandemic management activities. This work will continue to be guided by the same core principles we established at the outset of this crisis: to put health and safety first, protect the academic enterprise, leverage our breadth and diversity, and preserve access and affordability.
Our preparations for the fall build on early experience gained through the restart of campus-based research activities. Following the Governor’s four-phase plan to reopen businesses in the Commonwealth, Harvard started a phased return to on-campus research this summer. This return has been guided by protocols that are in line with national and state guidelines and implement new Harvard public health practices. Returning research groups have started at low density, subject to approvals at the principal investigator, departmental/area, School, and University levels, through an evaluation process that aims to protect both the health and safety of our research community and all those who work in our research facilities. Harvard University Health Services conducted baseline viral testing for all those returning to campus and is transitioning to recurring weekly tests (after baseline) for anyone regularly on campus more than 4 hours per week. Building on the experience gained from working through the many complexities of restarting some campus-based scholarly activities, we are now piloting many variations of the residential experience for undergraduates and for residential staff.
We know that adapting our campus for COVID-19 and supporting an excellent remote academic experience will require significant new investment. Over the summer, the Office of Undergraduate Education has worked diligently with the Bok Center and the Academic Technology Group to deliver trainings to more than 1,000 faculty and teaching fellows to prepare them for remote teaching. They have also provided research assistance for the redesign of more than 180 courses, created new and expanded instructional support roles for graduate students, and are providing technology assistance for teaching fellows and teaching assistants to support their work this fall. For students who face challenges learning remotely, we invited more than 1,000 back to campus and provided technology, such as loaner laptops and hotspots, to the rest. With these and other investments to implement new health protocols, we are gaining a clearer understanding of the costs associated with the many elements of our fall plan, though we do not yet have final estimates. We do know, however, that we will have more resources to put against those costs than we had initially anticipated. The Corporation has informed the Schools that, based on the current performance of the capital markets, it has voted to hold the distribution flat for FY21, rather than to reduce the amount by 2% as was previously approved. This is good news, but we still will find ourselves operating in deficit and will need to continue carefully managing resources in the coming year.
While we are working hard to prepare for this new student cohort to come to campus, we will plan to continue our current remote work arrangements through at least the end of the calendar year. As the University announced yesterday, all those who have been approved to work remotely should continue to do so through the end of December. Our decision regarding plans for the spring semester will be announced in early December, and we will address future remote work expectations as part of that announcement. Answers to common questions about remote work can be found here and here
Even as we sweat through these dog days of summer, I hope each of you finds time to renew and recharge for the year ahead. We are preparing the way for a fall semester that will be unlike any other in the history of Harvard, one that will require your continued energy, flexibility, and partnership. And yet, as different as it may be, I am confident that our plans will deliver a truly excellent learning experience for all students and enable our unparalleled academic community to thrive in these profoundly changed circumstances. I am enormously grateful for the tireless and careful work of so many across the FAS and the University to help us realize these paramount goals. There is still much to be done in the weeks and months ahead. As we chart this path together, I hope we continue to lean in to the vitality of our teaching and research mission and preserve the FAS as a place of transformational knowledge and discovery.