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'It’s Going to Feel Very Different': Administrators Discuss Spring Plans at Town Hall

University Hall, which sits at the center of Harvard Yard, is home to many administrative offices, including those of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard College.
University Hall, which sits at the center of Harvard Yard, is home to many administrative offices, including those of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard College. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Benjamin L. Fu, Crimson Staff Writer

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana discussed the administration’s planning process for next spring at a town hall for College affiliates Wednesday evening alongside other College administrators.

Harvard administrators announced yesterday afternoon that the College will aim to use all available bedrooms on campus next semester. Administrators will prioritize seniors, currently enrolled juniors, and students requiring special accommodations when inviting students back to campus.

The roughly hour-long town hall hosted over Zoom featured a panel consisting of Khurana, Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh, Dean of Students Katherine G. O'Dair, and Interim Cabot House Resident Dean Meghan Lockwood. Reaching just over 900 attendees at its peak, Wednesday’s town hall saw a significant reduction in attendance from June’s town hall on plans for the fall semester, which 2,000 affiliates attended.

Panelists took turns explaining different elements of the rationale behind the decisions outlined in Tuesday’s email announcement.

Khurana began the town hall by explaining the College’s decision to prioritize seniors and enrolled upperclassmen in inviting students back to on-campus housing.

“We were guided by our commitment to maintaining student academic progress,” Khurana said. “With many engaged in senior thesis projects or other capstone projects, the academic priority of seniors has always been clear, and consultation with our faculty during the fall revealed just how vital the junior year is in setting the stage for these activities.”

He acknowledged that the College’s prioritization of certain groups may have been poorly received by sophomores.

“I especially know how deeply disappointing this news must be for our sophomores, and their families,” Khurana said. “I share your disappointment. We share your disappointment.”

After Khurana’s introductory remarks, Claybaugh addressed the virtual experience enrolled students have had this semester and fielded questions from Khurana. Calling feedback from remote instruction “surprisingly good,” Claybaugh praised instructors and students alike for managing a semester of virtual learning.

“Our instructors and TFs have made heroic efforts to adapt their courses for this new mode of teaching, and our students, to say they have risen to the occasion would be to understate their accomplishment,” she said.

O’Dair then addressed testing procedures for next semester, as well as what students returning to campus could expect on-campus life to look like.

“For upper-class students who are returning, it's going to feel very different than when you were on campus last,” O’Dair said. “One of the changes we have made for the spring for students and residents is our plan to use a color-coded system for phases of campus reopening that provide either more or less access to facilities and programming based on public health conditions.”

O’Dair said campus dining halls would remain grab-and-go. She added that administrators intend to be more transparent and straightforward with affiliates about decisions and restrictions.

“I think we're really trying to be a little more clear with students about what the stages are and what they can expect,” O’Dair said. “We don't want surprises.”

Lockwood then addressed viral testing on campus and encouraged strict adherence to the community compact among returning students, adding that failure to do so could result in loss of housing eligibility.

During the panel discussion, Claybaugh conceded that many of the College’s plans remain subject to change due to the evolving nature of the ongoing health crisis.

“We will not know what is sensible to do, and we won't know even what we’re legally allowed to do until the semester starts,” Claybaugh said. “So, I can tell you that we are full of plans and hopes, but we cannot make any promises — this will all be dependent on what seems sensible from a public health point-of-view."

—Staff writer Benjamin L. Fu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenFu_2.

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