The Dean of Students Office is currently preparing for a multitude of scenarios for the fall semester as uncertainty continues to swirl around whether undergraduates will return to campus, Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair said in an interview Tuesday.
O’Dair said her office is currently examining altered possibilities for residential life, pre-orientation programs, and programs relating to student engagement.
“We do not have any information about what the College or the University will do in the fall yet,” O’Dair said. “What we’re doing now is thinking about our work and our goals and what we have outlined to plan for any type of scenario.”
Though Harvard has committed to resume classes in the fall, it is still unclear whether the undergraduates will learn in-person or virtually.
With the semester in flux, students have voiced concerns about the possibility of remote learning. Many are even considering taking leaves of absence, citing the burden of tuition and the perceived lower quality of virtual instruction.
O’Dair also said the uncertainty about the fall precludes any firm decisions about what residential life might look like for students. She also declined to comment on possible housing policies if students return to campus.
“We do not know what the plan is for the fall, and so therefore all of those questions we simply just can’t answer right now,” she said.
Associate Dean of Student for Engagement Alexander R. Miller said the DSO has started “scenario planning” in case pre-orientation programs must be held virtually. Last month, the leadership of several pre-orientation programs advised their members that the programs would likely be significantly altered due to coronavirus.
“There haven’t been fall plans announced yet, but I’ve asked our teams to start scenario planning,” Miller said. “We will wait to see what the pre-orientation directors come up with, because they know their programs the best.”
Though the fall semester remains in limbo, O’Dair said the DSO will continue to fulfill its role to meet the needs of students.
“I know that this uncertainty is a great source of anxiety for students, and we wish that we had more clarity, we wish we had more answers,” O’Dair said. “What we’re doing is taking whatever actions we can right now, based on what we know right now to ensure that we are going to meet students’ needs, regardless of the scenario.”
For the few hundred students who did not leave campus in March, the DSO offered an option for these students to petition for summer housing at Harvard. Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01 said the petition criteria largely remained the same.
“We had a criteria that was agreed upon by a committee that reviewed the petitions,” she said. “I think the criteria was very similar to what happened in March. We feel confident that we were able to meet the students who expressed need.”
Brandt said that the petition process for summer housing has concluded, but declined to cite the number of accepted applicants.
The DSO imposed strict social distancing rules for students remaining on campus and provided each student with pre-made meals and personal bathrooms.
Brandt added that the summer arrangements include “access to kitchens and Harvard University Health Services,” but there will be limited operation of Harvard University Dining Services.
Miller — who will leave Harvard in June — said he believes that he has laid the groundwork for the Office of Student Engagement to succeed after his departure. During his 4-year tenure, Miller helped expand the College Events Board and worked to implement policies regarding independent student organizations.
“I tried to build systems and programs that can be sustainable,” he said. “I think the only difference now is it’s under a different context.”
“No one has had any kind of playbook for how we would do the work, but I think I have secured a very good team of folks who care deeply about students, and I think I’ve helped build a great culture on campus around student organizations and their involvement,” Miller added.
The University has implemented a hiring freeze due to the coronavirus pandemic, which could postpone the hiring of Miller’s potential replacement. O’Dair said the DSO is working on a “transition plan” towards new leadership at the Office of Student Engagement, but declined to provide further specifics.
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