Campus & Community

Harvard plans full return to campus life

Full-density residential living, in-person classes for College and GSAS this fall

6 min read
Fall views of Widener Library at Harvard University. S

The University is preparing for a fall return of students, faculty, and staff.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard file photo

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences is planning for a full return to campus in the fall, including opening residential accommodations at full density and holding classes in person.

Edgerley Family Dean Claudine Gay announced this expectation in a message to faculty, students, researchers, and staff today, and laid out details of the proposed return.

“I am proud of how we have met this moment and grateful for the hard work of the many faculty, staff, students, and researchers who have contributed to the success of our efforts over the past year. But our overriding goal has always been a full return to campus, and reaching that goal now feels not only possible but imminent,” Gay wrote. “Promising downward trends in infection rates, encouraging new CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance on the impact of vaccination on public health practices, and the aggressive rollout of vaccinations across the nation have brought a new sense of hope that the end of this challenging period is in sight.”

[Harvard’s Schools will issue their own individual guidelines as they also move toward reopening. In a letter to the Harvard community on Monday, President Larry Bacow, Provost Alan Garber, and Executive Vice President Katie Lapp said the University is targeting Aug. 2 as the date when faculty, staff, and researchers will be authorized to return to campus, presuming the pandemic continues to wane. The University will continue to update its coronavirus workplace policies as future conditions warrant.]

[“ Our highest priority will remain the health and safety of every member of our community,” the three officials wrote, “and we will continue to engage in contingency planning so that we are prepared and can adapt if the public health situation changes.”]

Gay said the College is preparing to accommodate a larger number of students, including those who deferred their first year or took a leave during the pandemic. She stressed that the return to campus was designed for a full return to in-person teaching and research operations. In pursuit of this goal, she expects that the full range of academic resources will be available in person this fall, including libraries, archives, museums, and research facilities.

The fall planning update comes amidst expanded vaccine rollout plans at the state and federal levels, as well as gradual campus reopening procedures that rely on robust testing, tracing, and de-densification. Currently, the College is operating at Reopening Level 4: Lime, which allows for some residential gathering, athletics, and performance-practice activities, as well as for College, house, and Yard-sponsored outdoor programming. Some labs have reopened for in-person research, and graduate students have received financial and research support from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) to continue their work on campus and virtually.

Gay’s letter addressed the challenges students have faced being away from campus. Many have not been there in more than a year, and some first-years have never visited Cambridge. International students also have faced “particular hurdles” with visa processing and government policies preventing them from entering or leaving the U.S. Acknowledging the potential for restrictions and delays in visa processing, Gay emphasized that students should confidently apply for visas knowing that there will be in-person instruction, and the FAS will work with those students to navigate their program options.

Nearly 15 percent of the population of Massachusetts has been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, and Gov. Charlie Baker expects the state to vaccinate 4 million people by July 4. President Joe Biden has proposed a plan to make all adults in the U.S. eligible for the vaccine by May 1. Gay noted that fall planning will continue to evolve and be flexible, based on state and local information on case numbers, disease variants, and other relevant conditions.

FAS staff members working remotely will begin to transition to in-person work, in accordance with the University’s targeted return-to-campus date of Aug. 2. Some staff, in particular those involved in student life and learning, will come back earlier as part of preparations for the summer and fall. For all FAS community members, Gay said, the return to campus will be a major adjustment after a year of financial, emotional, and physical hardships brought on the pandemic.

“As a School, we know that our fall plans will require further investment at a time when financial resources continue to be constrained and spending is limited to the essential. As individuals, there is a lot about this that is hard,” she wrote. “Planning to work, teach, and carry out research in person can provoke anxiety after a year of diligent masking, distancing, and handwashing. That we assume these practices will still be needed this fall is also a sad reminder that the pandemic will still be with us in some form. Returning to campus also reminds us of the things that did not happen this past year, from lost athletic competitions to lost Commencement traditions in the Yard. And many of us carry a sense of loss and of mental strain from the worry and uncertainty we have faced.”

Still, she expressed optimism about the community’s ability to advance a shared mission to define “our new normal.”

“We are eager and excited to have you here, but more than that, we need you. The coming year will be an important time of transition. This year has changed us, individually and institutionally. We know we can’t recapture the campus experience of 2019. We can only move forward, bringing all we have learned from the past year to the project of rebuilding our campus-based identity,” Gay wrote. “We need your spirit of experimentation and your willingness to pilot and to change. They are not only welcome; they will be necessary as we endeavor to live up to the full promise of our mission in this moment in history.”

Final plans will be announced in late May, including specific information on re-entry protocols, housing details, public health protocols, financial aid updates, and more. Updates from the University on COVID-19 are available on its website.