Harvard’s Fall Semester Planning ‘Likely to Vary by School,’ Bacow Says


University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview with The Crimson Friday that Harvard administrators are considering “all possible scenarios” as they plan for the fall semester but that plans are “likely to vary by school.”

Bacow noted that the University’s decision on whether instruction would take place in person will depend on the individual schools and their “different requirements and different capabilities.” Harvard Medical School announced last week that first year medical, dental, and graduate students will begin classes online in the fall semester.

“The campus will be open,” Bacow said. “The question is how many students will be on campus and what will be the form of instruction.”

Bacow said Harvard College is discussing options to de-densify housing if the semester is held in person for undergraduates.


“We’re looking at a variety of alternatives,” he said. “Some of which include bringing some people back and not others. Some of which would include utilizing housing stock that's traditionally not been utilized for undergraduates.”

He added that the school is “still awaiting some guidance” from the state to determine “how dense” housing can be for students living together.

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 announced in April that the University will be open this fall regardless of whether classes are conducted online or in-person.

If the semester is to be online for College students, Bacow said most courses will be specifically designed to be taught online.

“This spring, faculty members had essentially 10 days to pivot from their normal pedagogy to online teaching, and as a result, they were pressed to master new technology and to adapt their classes very very quickly,” he said. “If we are online in the fall, it will be with courses — at least a majority of courses — that have been designed to be taught online.”

As the University weighs scenarios for the fall semester, Bacow said he is also in conversation with other University and Ivy League presidents. However, he said the schools in the Ivy League face different considerations based on their location.

“The urban campuses — Penn, Columbia, ourselves — many of our employees rely upon public transit to get to and from campus,” he added. “That's not true at Cornell, for example, or Dartmouth. The availability of public transit and the safety of public transit is a factor that we have to consider in determining what we're going to do in the fall.”

Bacow said the University has not yet determined whether public transit will be safe and whether employees will feel comfortable traveling to work using public transportation such as the T.

Harvard will announce whether classes will be held in-person or online no later than July but will inform students of its decision as soon as it is reached, according to Bacow.

“Once we’ve reached a decision, we’ll announce it,” he said. “We are exploring every possible alternative, and some of those alternatives are a function of events that are completely out of our control like the status of the virus at a particular moment in time, the availability of effective, quick, and affordable testing, and a variety of other conditions.”

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.