Academic continuity was a guiding principle in Harvard’s planning for the spring semester, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in a Monday interview.
Harvard’s plan for the spring semester — announced earlier this month by Khurana, along with University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay — welcomes roughly half of all undergraduates to live on campus. The plan gives preference to seniors, currently enrolled juniors, and students faced with learning environment or time zone challenges.
This past semester, the College hosted just a quarter of students — primarily first-years — in its dorms. Khurana said the success of the fall opened the door to bringing even more students back this spring.
“Our campus was able to maintain a Covid-19 positivity rate that was below that of the surrounding Greater Boston and Cambridge communities and we did not find any evidence of transmission among members of our undergraduate residential population that was on campus,” Khurana said. “This encouraged our outcomes and our decision-making.”
When deciding which students to invite to campus, Khurana said administrators prioritized academic continuity.
“We made a commitment that if we were going to have any type of students, it would be students who couldn’t do their academic work at home,” he said. “So students who didn’t have the conditions to advance on their academic work or needed to be on campus to do their academic work.”
Khurana said the groups the University chose to prioritize bringing back to campus have particular academic needs that can only be met on Harvard's campus.
“Seniors have projects that range from a thesis to capstone projects,” he said, citing endeavors that require access to Harvard’s libraries and other academic resources located on campus.
He added that the second semester of junior year is also a crucial “jumping off point for independent research.”
Khurana said that the College prioritized juniors who completed the fall not only because of their second-semester research needs, but also because it sought to maintain consistency with its earlier messaging that students who took a leave of absence would not be guaranteed on-campus housing upon their return.
Though they will not be prioritized, juniors returning from a leave of absence are still eligible to apply for spring on-campus housing and will be “accommodated to the greatest degree possible,” according to the University’s spring plan.
Khurana acknowledged the spring housing decision shuts the sophomore class out of living on campus for the entire academic year.
“This is also a difficult decision because we knew how challenging it would also be for sophomores who were confronting the reality of being away from campus for a full year, which is really, really difficult,” he said.
Some sophomores — in addition to first-year students and juniors returning from a leave of absence — told The Crimson they were disappointed with the spring plans shortly after the University’s announcement.
“I know that the decision is not the optimal decision,” Khurana said. “Our ultimate goal is to bring all students back to campus.”
—Staff writer Alex Koller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.