University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview Thursday that Harvard aimed to bring as many students to campus as possible in the spring while allowing for public health guidelines.
The University's plan — which Bacow, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay, and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced on Tuesday — preferences seniors, currently enrolled juniors, and students with learning environment or time zone challenges.
Bacow said he, Gay, and Khurana “concluded collectively” that they wanted to afford the maximum possible number of students the opportunity to reside on campus, so long as they could maintain the limit of one student per bedroom.
Though the choice of which subset of students to allow back on campus fell to the College, rather than the University, Bacow said the decision was “largely determined by considerations of academic progress.”
Bacow also elaborated on the University’s choice not to expand undergraduate housing beyond current dorms, which could have enabled more students to return.
“We have a tradition of housing undergraduates on campus, and we think that's an important part of the Harvard College experience,” he said. “If we put undergraduates in housing throughout the city, they would not have the kind of support that they have on campus.”
“We also recognize that we've had far less issues with community spread of the virus on campus than we have had off campus, so putting more undergraduates off campus potentially would put more people at risk,” he added.
Administrators waited as long as they could to release the decision to maximize available information, including about possible vaccine distribution, Bacow said. He also emphasized the plan is subject to change should conditions in Massachusetts worsen.
“We are always going to prioritize public health,” Bacow said. “If we don't think we can have approximately 3,100 students on campus safely, then as we said in our message, we will revisit our plan.”
Bacow said he understands why students who will not be allowed to return to campus are frustrated by the announcement.
“We understand why they're upset,” he said. “We wanted to bring everybody back. If we could have brought everybody back safely, we would. But we had to ask everybody to sacrifice.”
As for sophomores, the only class year not specifically invited to campus in either the fall or spring, Bacow said the University is looking to Harvard Summer School “to try and give them additional time on campus, recognizing that we have not been able to accommodate them under the current circumstances.”
“We're trying to do our best in a difficult situation in which it's literally not possible to make everybody happy,” he added.
Nonetheless, Bacow said he empathized with sophomores and their current situation.
“If I were in their position I would also be disappointed,” he said. “But I hope they'll also be understanding.”
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.
—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.