FAS Dean Gay ‘Hopeful’ Harvard Will Be ‘Close To, If Not Entirely, Fully Operational’ by Fall 2021


Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay said she is “hopeful” that Harvard will be “close to, if not entirely, fully operational” by the fall of 2021 in an interview with The Crimson Thursday.

“I’m hoping that 2021 will just be completely different,” Gay said. “I am just so ready to turn the page on this year, and I’m kind of optimistic by nature, so I’m really hopeful that we will be close to — if not entirely — fully operational next fall.”

“At the end of the day, we have to take steps that both allow us to pursue our teaching and research mission, but also protect the health and safety of our community,” Gay added.

Gay and other administrators announced Tuesday that Harvard will expand the number of undergraduates permitted to live in the dorms to 3,100 — roughly half of all College students — in the spring of 2021, prioritizing upperclassmen and those facing challenging learning environments.


“Our ambition for the spring is to continue to make progress toward our goal of returning to a full residential experience for our undergraduates and taking that next big step on that path, and also to continue to support graduate students and their academic progress,” Gay said Thursday.

Harvard administrators had said since July that seniors would receive priority for housing on campus in the spring of 2021 should any students be invited to the dorms.

One of the reasons Harvard decided to bring back juniors rather than sophomores for the spring was to allow juniors to research on campus in preparation for senior thesis work, according to Gay. She said during a faculty meeting Tuesday that she had “not foreclosed” the possibility of allowing non-resident students to research on campus as well.

Gay said Thursday that the pandemic is “too unpredictable” to say whether she anticipates FAS will make adjustments to its spring planning before students move in, but that they are prepared to do so.

“We are continuously monitoring the public health conditions both on our campus and beyond our campus around the country,” Gay said. “We’re prepared to revise our plans in light of what we learn, especially if it’s in advance of any scheduled move in.”

Asked whether Harvard would give students more time to move out than the five days it gave students to vacate campus in the spring of 2020 if it were necessary to de-densify campus during the spring of 2021, Gay similarly said the unpredictability of the pandemic prevents her from speculating.

“Everything about the pandemic is so unpredictable, so I really just can’t speculate,” Gay said. “The guidance for the students who will be coming to campus in the spring and we’ve provided in the fall was that they should pack light and they should arrive with a rapid move out plan in their back pocket.”

This fall, campus life was markedly different for the roughly 25 percent of undergraduates — including non-international freshmen and select upperclassmen — living in the dorms.

The College asked those students to sign a Community Compact promising to abide by public health guidelines, to submit to testing three times each week, and to eschew most social contact in favor of Zoom. It also established a group to adjudicate violations of social distancing rules, the Community Council, which at one point dismissed three freshmen from the dorms after they held an illicit gathering of at least six people.

Students living on campus in the spring will also have to sign a Community Compact and abide by similarly strict public health protocols.

—Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.