Dear faculty, staff, and researcher colleagues,
As the summer months wane and we begin to welcome our full student body to campus for the first time in over eighteen months, the anticipation to be together again is palpable. Returning to the classroom, reengaging in the transformative work of in-person teaching and research, and reclaiming the animated campus experience so central to our institutional identity are finally within reach. After months of intense planning and preparation, it’s an exciting moment full of possibility, deep significance, and heightened emotion. In many ways it feels like a first semester for us all, even those of us who have called Harvard home for many years.
In June, when we announced our plan to return to campus-based teaching and research this fall, that plan depended crucially on four core public health factors. Of these, reaching a community vaccination rate of 90% was by far the most important. As of today, we reached that goal for faculty, researchers, staff, and students across the University and expect the vaccination rate to rise further as students who have not had access to WHO-approved vaccines reach campus and receive their first dose. In addition to a high vaccination rate, the practice of high-cadence viral testing—currently set at once per week for vaccinated individuals, twice per week for unvaccinated—and contact tracing enables us to quickly identify and isolate positive cases and limit community spread of the virus. The adherence to community masking guidelines was the third factor. The experience of our low-density campus community last academic year demonstrated that our students, staff, faculty, and researchers embraced the masking guidelines and made routine the practice of reminding each other to mask up as a normal part of everyday life. And finally, we implemented many facilities improvements in our buildings, from enhanced air exchanges to touchless fixtures and new signage. Vaccination, testing and tracing, masking, and facilities improvements were the four pillars for our return to campus-based operations, and I am happy to report that all four are strong and ready for fall, helping to provide a safe classroom, research, and workplace environment.
That said, we have always known that navigating a COVID-adapted campus would be different from the campus environment we left in March 2020. COVID is far from gone, a reality that has become even more stark with the emergence of variants of the virus. Therefore, fulsome preparation for managing disruption and maintaining academic continuity remains absolutely critical to our success this fall. To that end, the FAS Return to Campus Working Group (RTC), in partnership with Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University Health Services and many other FAS and University units, has assembled relevant policies, procedures, and resources for faculty, researchers, and staff on teaching, carrying out research, and working from campus. This week, our focus is to get these resources to you, to answer your questions, and to help you understand what to expect this fall. Later today, the Office of Undergraduate Education and the Registrar’s Office will distribute information for faculty and teaching staff about fall term action items, in-person teaching, and resources for maintaining academic continuity for students and instructors. Faculty and teaching staff will have already received invitations to Town Halls this week, and many have already submitted questions to be addressed in these sessions.
Keep in mind that the guidance will necessarily change frequently as circumstances and policies evolve. That means we all need to take on a new personal responsibility as we come back to campus this fall—the responsibility to stay informed. Make it a habit to read messages you receive from FAS and University Offices in a timely manner as these will be sent when new resources or changes become available. At any time, you can check the FAS Return to Campus website (a site specifically for faculty and researchers is available here), which will continue to be a clearinghouse for policies and resources. The Return to Campus group sends a monthly update to faculty and staff and hosts webinars on a variety of topics, which are posted to the RTC website.
As we start this semester, we will again be called on to tap into our reserves of energy, creativity, and patience. The good news is that we have done all of this before, and well. Our community can handle what is to come; we are bigger and stronger than the challenges we will face. This last year has reminded me again and again that learning is a profoundly hopeful act. I encourage us all to lean into that hope in the months to come as we build our new normal together. I cannot wait to welcome our students and each of you back to our campus community. And above all, I look forward to once again experiencing the serendipity, the emotion, and the life that comes from on-campus learning and discovery. Welcome back!
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences