Dear Harvard College Students,
As you may have seen earlier today, Provost Alan Garber announced that Harvard courses will be offered in fall 2020, although we do not know yet whether courses will be remote or on campus. I write to share with you a message that Dean Gay sent to the faculty that offers more information about this.
We hope this information will allow you to begin to plan for the fall; however, I recognize that there is still a great deal of uncertainty about what the fall semester will look like. Guided by recommendations from public health experts, we are exploring a broad spectrum of options to determine the best path forward both for academic continuity and social engagement – whether on campus or from afar. As we navigate this challenging moment, we would like to hear directly from you. Please use this survey link before the end of this semester to share your thoughts with our planning team to help inform fall planning.
We plan to decide no later than July whether the residential campus will open for the fall semester. Please know that our decisions will continue to be driven by our unwavering commitment to your health and well-being. Thank you for your help and patience as we navigate these uncertain times. I look forward to hearing from you in the days ahead and to sharing more information as soon as possible.
Danoff Dean of Harvard College
Dear FAS colleagues,
Today, Provost Garber wrote to the Harvard community to confirm that the University will be open for fall 2020, though in a form necessarily adapted to the new realities of education during a global pandemic.
Like you, I am eager to reclaim the Harvard experience and return to campus-based operations as soon as possible. For each of us, Harvard is more than our courses, grades, experiments, or publications. There is a profound sense of place created by the way we come together, in hallway conversations, debates in the classroom, lab, or across the dining hall table, and in treasured rituals like Housing Day and Commencement that link us to generations past. While we make every effort to remain connected in this time of remote teaching and work, we long for all the experiences that only a return to campus can make possible. The vulnerabilities exposed by this pandemic, however, will shape how we pursue our research and teaching mission next year and, most likely, for many years to come. Already we are developing approaches for restarting our research program for faculty and graduate students, including accessing campus-based research facilities, that reflect our new understanding of what is required to protect the health and safety of our community.
Our most daunting challenge will be how and when to stage the return of undergraduates to their residential Houses. The Houses are essential to the Harvard undergraduate experience, part of a tradition of residential education that is at the core of the College’s institutional identity and integral to the goal of personal, social, and intellectual transformation. De-densification of the campus fractured these intergenerational communities of faculty, graduate students, staff, and undergraduates, creating a sense of loss more profound than a simple disruption in the rhythm of the semester. Harvard will not feel truly “open” until all students return to campus. But we will not bring students back until we can do so safely, in a manner that protects individuals and our broader community from undue risks associated with Covid-19. As an international community, we must consider not only local conditions, but also constraints on travel, the accessibility of visas, and other potential barriers to a return to campus. Thus, in order to fulfill our teaching mission and ensure that students continue to make progress in their education, we must actively plan for a wide range of alternatives for the coming academic year.
Any option for fall 2020 presents complexities, and must be evaluated against a host of unknowns about the course of the pandemic, the availability of testing, our capacity to manage new outbreaks, and myriad other factors essential to determining the viability and sustainability of a course of action. The range of alternatives we will need to consider, because the pandemic will not be behind us, includes some degree of remote instruction. If we decide to pursue a remote experience in the fall, we will approach it differently than was possible in the quick transition to remote instruction that occurred this spring, using the next four months to reimagine the Harvard experience for students, both in and beyond the curriculum, and to provide an entirely different level of support to faculty and teaching fellows. In many ways, this option would constitute the heaviest lift for our community and for it to be viable, focused and deliberate work must begin immediately.
I have asked Dean Chris Stubbs and Registrar Mike Burke to spearhead the FAS planning work, and I am grateful for their leadership and for the principled, epidemiologically-informed approach they are taking. Faculty input will be essential to our planning, and the Academic Divisions and SEAS already are convening conversations with departments. Additionally, we will appoint a number of working groups of faculty and staff to examine particular issues related to fall 2020, including the curriculum, scheduling, facilities modifications, and testing and contact tracing. Mechanisms for graduate and undergraduate student input are also being developed, and some discussions with student advisory groups have begun. We also have established an email address (FASscenarioplanning@fas.harvard.edu) where you can share your ideas and perspectives. As the planning work unfolds, we will keep you informed of the progress. We expect to reach a decision about fall 2020 no later than July.
Planning for fall 2020 is a difficult task, and it comes at a moment when we have already devoted enormous energy to making the spring semester as successful as possible. As we ready ourselves for this longer road, I have been heartened by my conversations with so many of you. Your commitment to teach and learn from our undergraduates and to develop our graduate students as the next generation of academic leaders is easy to see, and it is the critical resource we draw on now. Our collective knowledge, ingenuity, and experience will be necessary as we try to see around corners and develop effective strategies for pursuing our teaching and research activities under new assumptions and constraints.
We cannot predict now the outcome of our planning efforts, but what is certain is our commitment to offering an excellent Harvard learning experience. We will not move forward with a program, whether remote or in-person, that does not meet that bar. We also recognize that this is our students’ moment in history, and we have an obligation and opportunity to help them lean into it. The world around us has changed fundamentally, and our students need Harvard and a Harvard education now more than ever to develop as thinkers, leaders, and agents of change. We will bring that sense of purpose to our planning work.
For the newest members of our community, our admitted students, whose Harvard stories have yet to begin, the uncertainties of the current moment may be particularly hard to bear. Many are already mourning the loss of a traditional high school graduation and other rites of passage, and now they face the prospect of a first-year experience unlike any other in Harvard’s history. While this is not the beginning they imagined, it is nonetheless the start of an intellectual journey too important to delay. We hope they choose to join us. We are eager to have them here.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is a residential academic community. This is fundamental to our identity, as well as a source of pride and inspiration. Even as we aspire to be together again as soon as possible, our resilience through this crisis will depend on a successful transition to a safety-conscious, remote-ready institution for the long term. That is the work that must begin now, and I am committed to our collective success in that endeavor. Thank you for your patience and partnership, your seriousness of purpose, and your care for our students and your colleagues as we continue this journey together, one week at a time.