Coronavirus Closes Classes

Students transition to online learning—perhaps for the rest of the semester—and are asked not to return after spring break.

Harvard University shield

The third shoe has dropped, as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread. The University’s site for information on countermeasures is updated continuously. Highlights appear here.

Updated March 12, 2020, 2:45 p.m.: Ivy League athletic practices and competitions have been canceled for the duration of the spring. The College’s announcements concerning financial aid for students to store or ship home personal belongings indicate strongly that officials do not expect residential education to resume on campus this term (“We recommend storage for those items that you will not need to access until the fall semester”—see the guidance here). And Harvard Art Museums just announced its closing at the end of business hours today, in concert with other area cultural institutions.

•Last Friday, the College announced that Visitas, the annual weekend during which admitted applicants can visit campus before committing to accept their offer of admission, would be canceled; an online Virtual Visitas will be scheduled in place of the April 18-20 gathering.

•Yesterday, in light of the University’s prior decision to eliminate gatherings of more than 100 people (venues such as Sanders Theatre and the forum at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics have been shuttered, and their programming canceled), the College declared that Housing Day, scheduled for March 12—when first-year students learn about their upper-class residential assignments—has been postponed.

•And this morning, President Lawrence S. Bacow informed the community that instruction in residence will be suspended—and that students are directed not to return to campus after spring recess, which begins this Friday. He wrote:

We will begin transitioning to virtual instruction for graduate and undergraduate classes. Our goal is to have this transition complete by Monday, March 23, which is the first day of scheduled classes following Spring Recess. 

Students are asked not to return to campus after Spring Recess and to meet academic requirements remotely until further notice. Students who need to remain on campus will also receive instruction remotely and must prepare for severely limited on-campus activities and interactions. All graduate students will transition to remote work wherever possible. Schools will communicate more specific guidance and information, and we encourage everyone to review prior guidance about both international and domestic travel.

Although Bacow said the suspension of classes was in place until further notice, an administrative email referred to online instruction for the remainder of the academic year. Updated March 10, 2020, 1:45 p.m.: The University has clarified that while it has not set a deadline for the duration of online instruction, the uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus suggest that such instruction could well continue through the end of the semester, and administrative planning for any eventuality is proceeding; consult the University website for any updates as circumstances develop.

In a departure from precedent, and underlining the seriousness of the situation, the College has advised that students will be required to move out of their Houses and First-Year dorms as soon as possible and no later than Sunday, March 15 at 5:00 p.m

Moreover, Harvard is now “transitioning over the course of the next few days to non-essential gatherings of no more than 25 people”—a change from the prior guidance to restrict meetings to fewer than 100 participants. In a very fluid situation, it is far too soon to speculate about Commencement and reunions, scheduled for the last week in May—but the spring Harvard Alumni Association board meeting scheduled for April 30-May 2 will not be conducted in person (a means of convening remotely is being explored)—suggesting that Arts First, on the calendar that same weekend, is at risk. Updated March 10, 3:15 p.m.: The Office for the Arts has announced that Arts First has been suspended. The ECAC men’s hockey quarterfinal series this weekend will be played without spectators—and the Ivy League basketball tournament, scheduled this weekend for Lavietes Pavilion, may also take place in an oddly quiet arena. Updated March 10, 2020, 12:00 noon: The Ivy League has canceled the basketball tournament; although the Harvard men’s team again beat Yale this past Saturday, Yale led the league at the end of the regular season, and therefore receives the automatic Ivy bid to play in the NCAA tournament—as do the Princeton women.

The decision to move to online instruction is not surprising. Stanford and Rice have already moved in that direction. Princeton announced its decision to move online yesterday, from the end of spring break, March 23, until at least April 5, at which point the guidance will be reassessed.

Read more articles by: John S. Rosenberg

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