Faculty of Arts and Sciences will bring up to 40% of undergraduates to campus this fall

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) will bring up to 40 percent of undergraduates to campus for the fall semester, including all first-year students, Harvard announced today.

University President Larry Bacow, FAS Edgerley Family Dean Claudine Gay, and Danoff Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana co-authored a message to the FAS community that described the path forward, allowing first-years the opportunity to adjust to college academics and to begin creating connections with faculty and other classmates, while learning on campus in September.

The College will address gaps in students’ home learning environments and identify those who need to return to campus to continue to progress academically. Students on campus will move out before Thanksgiving and complete reading and exams periods from home.

“Harvard was built for connection, not isolation. Without a vaccine or effective clinical treatments for the virus, we know that no choice that reopens the campus is without risk,” the president and deans wrote. “That said, we have worked closely with leading epidemiologists and medical experts to define an approach that we believe will protect the health and safety of our community, while also protecting our academic enterprise and providing students with the conditions they need to be successful academically.”

Should only one cohort return in the spring, priority will be given to seniors. Bacow, Gay, and Khurana lamented that the overall decision would be particularly disappointing for sophomores and juniors who face a year away from campus after shifting to remote learning for half the past spring semester when they moved to learning from home as Harvard quickly de-densified because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recognition of this difficult situation, the president and deans extended to students who study away from campus for the full academic year the opportunity to return next summer to take two tuition-free courses at Harvard Summer School.

“The recent upturn in COVID-19 cases in certain states illustrates the difficulty of making predictions, even well-informed ones, about the evolution of this virus. Given this uncertainty, we determined that our fall plan must enable us to bring back as many students as possible while providing sufficient margin to accommodate an escalation of the prevalence of COVID-19 in our area. Anything less and we could find ourselves again facing the prospect of asking our students to leave, on short notice, prior to the end of the semester,” the leaders wrote.

The message provided details on the cost of attendance. Tuition will remain as previously announced. Aided students who do not return to campus will receive a $5,000 remote room and board allowance in their financial aid award each semester to support studying at home. The FAS also has eliminated the fall term-time work expectation for all aided students, given the challenging economy and the public health risks of non-remote work.

“We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy have created a number of challenges for families all over the world. Affording your Harvard education should not be one of them,” said Jake Kaufmann, Griffin Director of Financial Aid. “Harvard’s robust financial aid program and commitment to meeting students’ demonstrated financial need remains as strong as ever.”

All returning students and first-years will live in single bedrooms with a shared bathroom, and also learn remotely (as described in a previous announcement).

All students living on campus will be required to sign a community compact agreeing to new health measures, which include mandatory video training, daily symptom attestation, viral testing every three days, participation in contract tracing, and standard safety practices such as wearing masks and physical distancing. Students who test positive will be isolated and cared for by medical professionals at Harvard University Health Services, which is preparing quarantine accommodations for up to 250 individuals.

Inter-House access to other residences and dining areas, as well as to non-residential Harvard buildings, will be restricted, with the exception of University Health Services. Harvard Athletics has not yet determined a date for reopening recreational facilities. Harvard Library’s physical spaces remain closed. No off-campus visitors will be allowed into student residences, including enrolled Harvard students who are not in residence on campus.

The FAS has established and will continuously monitor an index of health factors on campus and in the Boston area that affect campus life. This index will guide administrators to respond immediately and alter residential operations as needed. For example, Harvard University Dining Services will be prepared to transition quickly between touchless food pick-up and more traditional dining operations as circumstances warrant.

“Though an undergraduate student may be at relatively low risk of complications associated with COVID-19, for example, their actions can impact the families of dining workers, security guards, House staff, and others who make residential life possible. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences promotes shared responsibility for the health and well-being of our campus community. We are truly in this together,” Bacow, Gay, and Khurana wrote.

Fall plans will bring a return to regular grading and an adjustment to scheduling. While classes will begin on Sept. 2, the instructional day will be expanded to accommodate students across global time zones.

The deferral deadline for first years has been extended to July 24. For upperclassmen contemplating taking leaves of absence, the College has trained a special team of advisors to help them work through the decision.

The Ivy League is expected to announce plans for fall sports competitions and training on July 8, but the message acknowledged that having a limited cohort of students on campus will affect what activities are possible. Plans for creating community and for co-curriculars will be announced later in the summer.

Bacow, Gay, and Khurana thanked the more than 100 members of the faculty and administration who served on 11 scenario-planning groups to lay out the fall. The interdisciplinary teams included data scientists, economists, historians, privacy experts, life scientists, and philosophers, “who have worked tirelessly to adapt Harvard to the demands the pandemic has placed on us while maintaining our commitment to academic excellence and inclusion.”

Though the message only described plans for fall, it suggested that the three on-campus density scenarios that went into this fall’s planning also would apply to spring: lower, continued medium, and higher. A decision on the makeup of spring semester is expected in early December, when the FAS also expects to announce a delayed start to it.

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