Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay said in a Monday interview that she remains cautiously optimistic that Harvard will return to normal, in-person operations in fall 2021.
While Gay acknowledged the possibility of returning the full student body to campus in the coming fall, she also said fall planning efforts must remain in tune with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and vaccine distribution efforts.
“I remain hopeful that fall will bring a return to our normal campus operations,” she said. “But I’m also realistic that a lot of things would need to break our way for that to happen, and there are no guarantees.”
“If Covid has taught us anything over the last 11 months, it’s that nothing is guaranteed,” she added.
Gay said that given “the uncertainty of some really important variables” connected to the pandemic — including the availability and impact of vaccines — she continues to keep multiple planning scenarios for the fall under consideration.
Gay added that she will provide further updates to Harvard affiliates about fall 2021 planning later this spring.
In a Feb. 3 Harvard Graduate Council meeting, Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen said there will “probably be stages” to the potential reopening of campus in the fall in light of the emergence of new Covid-19 variants in the United States.
Looking toward the summer, Gay said the FAS still plans to offer two free courses through the Harvard Summer School to undergradutes who were enrolled remotely for the entirety of the 2020-21 academic year. She declined to comment, however, on whether these courses would be offered in-person or remotely.
The Office of Undergraduate Education is working alongside FAS departments to “ensure that the academic offerings for sophomores especially this summer are robust,” she added. During this academic year, students of all grade levels except sophomores had the opportunity to live on campus for one semester, though sophomores with challenging learning environments at home could petition to live in the dorms.
“We made the really difficult decision to pursue remote teaching and learning for the full academic year for reasons that were really grounded, first and foremost, in our commitment to protecting health and safety, and also ensuring that we could preserve academic continuity for all of our students,” Gay said. “That said, despite our efforts to create a robust, online learning environment for our students, I understand that there are challenges.”
Faced with remote classes, limited social lives, and canceled athletics, some students who enrolled last fall declared a leave of absence this spring. The spring semester saw roughly 150 fewer undergraduates enrolled than in the fall semester as of the deadline by which students could opt to take the semester off without incurring a fee.
Nonetheless, Gay said she is optimistic about the opportunities the spring semester will bring.
“I was really pleased with the success of the fall semester, and I’m eager to replicate that this semester, ensure that our students continue to make academic progress, and provide the high quality educational experience that is distinctive to Harvard,” Gay said.
“We also do that in a way that protects the health and safety of our community — both on-campus communities, as well as the broader Cambridge and Boston community that we are a part of,” she added.
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