FAS to Reach Decision on Format of Fall 2020 Semester No Later than July


The Faculty of Arts and Sciences expects to reach a decision on the format of its fall semester no later than July, FAS Dean Claudine Gay wrote in an email to faculty and staff Monday.

Gay announced in the email that Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs and Registrar Michael P. Burke will lead FAS’s planning for the fall, with the help of several faculty and staff working groups. The working groups will examine issues including curriculum, scheduling, facilities modifications, and testing and contact tracing.

Gay’s email came shortly after University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 announced in an email to all University affiliates that Harvard will open for fall 2020, whether in person or online — ruling out the option of delaying the spring semester entirely, as other universities and some students have suggested.

Harvard moved classes online and sent students home in March due to the coronavirus, becoming one of the first universities to do so. In recent weeks, students have debated the merits of various formats for the fall semester.


Gay wrote that faculty input will be “essential” to planning, and that FAS is working on developing mechanisms for undergraduate and graduate student input. The FAS’s three academic divisions and its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have begun “convening conversations” with academic departments and student advisory groups, according to the email.

Gay also wrote that FAS faculty and staff must immediately begin planning for the potential of continued online instruction in the fall.

“The range of alternatives we will need to consider, because the pandemic will not be behind us, includes some degree of remote instruction,” she wrote. “If we decide to pursue a remote experience in the fall, we will approach it differently than was possible in the quick transition to remote instruction that occurred this spring, using the next four months to reimagine the Harvard experience for students, both in and beyond the curriculum, and to provide an entirely different level of support to faculty and teaching fellows.”

“In many ways, this option would constitute the heaviest lift for our community and for it to be viable, focused and deliberate work must begin immediately,” she added.

Gay wrote that the largest challenge FAS is facing is “how and when to stage the return” of undergraduates to the Houses, calling them “essential” to the Harvard experience.

“De-densification of the campus fractured these intergenerational communities of faculty, graduate students, staff, and undergraduates, creating a sense of loss more profound than a simple disruption in the rhythm of the semester,” she wrote.

“Harvard will not feel truly ‘open’ until all students return to campus,” the email continues. “But we will not bring students back until we can do so safely, in a manner that protects individuals and our broader community from undue risks associated with Covid-19.”

Gay concluded the email by acknowledging that FAS must be prepared to operate remotely on a long-term basis.

“The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is a residential academic community,” she wrote. “This is fundamental to our identity, as well as a source of pride and inspiration. Even as we aspire to be together again as soon as possible, our resilience through this crisis will depend on a successful transition to a safety-conscious, remote-ready institution for the long term.”

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