School Year 2020-21
Fall Comes into Focus
When students begin arriving in Cambridge, about three weeks hence, they will enter a community temporarily transformed by the coronavirus. The College announced on July 6 that only about 40 percent of the 6,700 undergraduates would be permitted to be in residence (first-year students, and those who cannot pursue their academic work from home)—and disclosed today that in fact only 1,632 will be on campus: about 25 percent of the student body.
At the same time, the Corporation has decided to hold the endowment distribution level for the current fiscal year, rather than trimming it 2 percent as had previously been announced—reflecting both the need for resources to operate Harvard during the pandemic and, apparently, more favorable investment results than had been anticipated.
Finally, the University yesterday informed employees that “the majority of Harvard personnel will continue to work remotely through at least the end of the calendar year,” and that those who do work on campus more than four hours per week will be subject to initial and then recurring COVID-19 testing—three, two, or one time(s) weekly, depending on their assignments.
As previously reported, all undergraduate teaching will be conducted remotely—for the minority of students in residence and for those logging in from around the world. (That decision was made early in the planning for the fall semester, with the result that most teaching faculty members pursued week-long immersive training during the summer to optimize their courses and instruction for online delivery, in contrast to the rushed pivot to Zoom classes effected during spring recess last March.) Most of the professional schools will also conduct classes remotely.
The College Cohort
Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) dean Claudine Gay advised colleagues this morning that “we are currently anticipating a residential cohort size of closer to 25 percent based on the number of students who have accepted our invitation to learn on campus.” Although the projections are changing constantly, she disclosed that as of today, 5,231 undergraduates intend to enroll—about 78 percent of the total. Of these, 1,168 first-year students and 464 upper-level students will be in residence, with 3,599 students studying remotely. The arithmetic suggests that about half as many upper-level students have accepted the offer to come back to campus as were originally anticipated: the 40 percent threshold would have accommodated all first-year students plus another 15 percent of undergraduates, or about 1,000 upper-level students who could not anticipate pursuing their academic work from home.
As reported, first-year international students are being prevented from enrolling in residence under federal visa regulations. Gay noted that 340 first-year students deferred their admission. The Administrative Board is reviewing requests for leaves of absence. (Although it is premature to know with confidence, if the figures do not change, about one-fifth of Harvard undergraduates plan to defer admission or take a leave or gap year of some sort. For comparison purposes, the Yale Daily News has reported that approximately 80 percent of undergraduates there are expected to enroll this fall: somewhat more than half locally—in Yale housing or off-campus—and another quarter studying remotely. Based on those preliminary figures, one-fifth of undergraduates are taking a leave during the fall semester or deferring admission.)
To prepare for the semester, Gay wrote, FAS has invested heavily in training more than 1,000 faculty members and teaching fellows to deliver instruction remotely. Given the costs of training them, revamping classes, and otherwise making the College ready for this most unusual fall (and ensuring that students can learn, wherever they are), Gay observed (emphasis added):
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 [fiscal year 2020, which began this past July 1], 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.
Decisions about the spring semester will be announced by early December, she wrote.
Gay’s full message appears at the bottom of this report.
The University Workforce
In an e-missive to the community yesterday, Alan M. Garber, provost; Katie Lapp, executive vice president; and Giang T. Nguyen, executive director of Harvard University Health Services, advised faculty and staff members that across the institution, “Some students will return to campus, along with a number of faculty, staff, and academic personnel supporting on-campus activities. Nobody outside these categories, unless directed otherwise by local leadership and managers, is expected to conduct their activities on campus.”
Hence, the decision that most personnel will continue to work remotely through at least the end of 2020. The July 6 announcement also established an end date of November 22 for academic residence during the fall term, with students remaining home after Thanksgiving and pursuing reading period and examinations remotely (to minimize the chance that they travel home, are exposed to the virus in their communities, and then return and spread it on campus—during what is traditionally the flu season). Because the spring semester is nominally not scheduled to begin until January 25, it seems likely that the campus will remain largely unpopulated until then, even if the public-health outlook improves markedly.
During the summer, the message continued, essential workers and laboratory staff approved to return to campus were required to get an initial virus test, and were encouraged to undergo weekly retesting. Effective August 16, Harvard affiliates authorized to be on campus will be required to be tested:
- three times weekly: students living in campus dorms and Houses, and faculty, staff, or academic personnel who live in those quarters;
- twice weekly: students who live off-campus but are required to be on campus more than once a week, and faculty, staff, or academic personnel who live off-campus but work in a residential building or have high contact with students; and
- once weekly: students who live off-campus but are required to be on campus only once a week, and any other faculty, staff, or academic personnel who live off -campus but regularly spend more than four hours per week on the campus.
The testing will be conducted through self-collected, unobserved samples (nasal swab and specimen tube) distributed via Color, a health-services company, and analyzed by The Broad Institute (the Harvard-MIT genomics center).
Anyone authorized to be on campus will have to:
- complete COVID-19 training;
- comply with the Massachusetts travel order (which governs quarantine procedures for those traveling from high-risk states—as of August 7, all but Hawaii and six northeastern states);
- isolate if she or he tests positive;
- complete a Crimson Clear health-symptom attestation before arriving on campus daily; and
- comply with contract-tracing and quarantine requirements.
Whether these measures, in combination, suffice to control the spread of the coronavirus among members of the community living and working on campus remains to be seen—particularly as people convene from states across the country with higher rates of spread. But the steps being taken are an indication of what seems to be required, in public-health and medical terms, to try to operate safely during a live pandemic, at Harvard and perhaps in the wider world beyond.
Dean Gay’s Community Message
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.