Harvard Faculty Discuss Coronavirus, Simultaneous Enrollment


Harvard administrators advised professors to prepare contingency plans for teaching and research in response to the continued spread of the novel coronavirus at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ monthly meeting Tuesday.

Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay both addressed the virus at the meeting.

Nguyen said HUHS is working with administrators, health authorities, and experts across Harvard’s schools to prepare the University for a potential outbreak. He added that the current situation is “very fluid” and asked faculty to plan for unexpected changes.

Gay asked faculty members to plan solutions to allow teaching and research to continue with minimal interruptions. She suggested that faculty learn to teach using Zoom, a video communication platform.


Harvard restricted all University-related travel to China in early February after the first case of coronavirus in Boston was reported. Later, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Level 3 travel warnings for COVID-19 in South Korea, Italy, and Iran, prompting Harvard to add the three countries to its restricted travel list.

Later in the meeting, the faculty also discussed a motion to simplify rules for simultaneous course enrollment.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh submitted the motion on behalf of the Standing Committee on Undergraduate Educational Policy following the committee’s review of simultaneous enrollment policies.

Currently, FAS allows simultaneous enrollment in one of three circumstances: when one of the course heads agrees to provide “hour-for-hour direct and personal compensatory instruction” for missed class time; when lectures are available on videotape, and a student will miss no more than one-third of them; or when a senior needs both courses to fulfill graduation requirements. Under all three circumstances, students must submit a petition to the Administrative Board to enroll.

Claybaugh said sorting through the hundreds of petitions submitted each semester takes around “300 hours of labor,” causing delays that can prove “stressful” for students.

Under the proposed revision, the Standing Committee will grant waivers to courses that meet certain criteria, allowing students to simultaneously enroll in them without petitioning. In other cases, students still must receive permission from the heads of both courses and petition the Ad Board.

Claybaugh said current procedures do not make sense for courses that upload online lectures and provide other opportunities for in-person instruction.

“I hope these changes will empower faculty to try new, creative teaching methods,” Computer Science professor Stuart M. Shieber, who presented the proposal, said.

Some courses have already been granted waivers from normal simultaneous enrollment rules.

FAS has exempted Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science” from simultaneous enrollment rules since 2014, while Economics 10: “Principles of Economics” and Statistics 110: “Introduction to Probability” received similar exemptions in 2019.

Also during the meeting, Philosophy chair Edward J. Hall requested an update from University President Lawrence S. Bacow on the Harvard Corporation’s response to fossil fuel divestment. During its February meeting, the faculty voted 179-20 to call on the Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — to divest.

“We anticipate that the Corporation, however it responds — we hope positively, given the clarity of the community-wide call for leadership — does so in such a way as to make its reasoning public,” Hall said.

Bacow responded that the Corporation is “aware” of the resolution, but did not have time to substantively consider it in its last meeting, which happened just after the February faculty meeting.

“In the same way it took more than one meeting for this group to discuss the issues, it’s likely to take more than one month for the Corporation to respond as well,” Bacow said.

Bacow pledged to report back to the faculty before the semester’s end.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

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