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FAS Dean Gay Says Harvard Planning for ‘Full Return’ in Fall 2021

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Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay said in a Friday interview that Harvard is currently planning for fall 2021 with the “overriding goal” of “charting a path to a full return for our students, our faculty, and staff.”

Gay said she is eager for Harvard to regain its “campus-based identity,” and she hopes fall 2021 will include “as much in-person learning as possible” for undergraduates.

Gay acknowledged, however, that despite the “positive a set of trends” in regard to reduced Covid-19 spread on campus this spring, she foresees that “there might be some form of the pandemic still with us” in the fall.

“I’ve been really pleased by on-campus conditions this spring, and we have yet another day of no new infections,” Gay said. “But what I will say is that any planning that we pursue has to build in flexibility because, again, one of the challenges of the pandemic is its unpredictable course and our need to pivot more than once in order to continue to put health and safety first while also preserving and advancing our academic enterprise.”

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Gay said the in-person teaching pilots this spring — led by Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanada J. Claybaugh — will help prepare the FAS for the possibility of hybrid learning in the fall, which would include in-person and online components for larger courses.

FAS will continue to seek advice from the Division of Continuing Education, whose Extension School has delivered courses via Zoom for the last five years, she added.

“It helped that the FAS is home to the Division of Continuing Education, and because of that, we had some already in-house expertise in learning effectively online and were able to draw on that to help with our pivot last March,” Gay said. “We’re again drawing on those in-house expertise and experience as we undertake the pilots this spring in hybrid learning.”

In spring 2021, undergraduate enrollment dipped nearly 20 percent from the previous year as some students chose to defer their studies. Their potential return — or delayed arrival, in the case of freshmen — in the fall leaves open the possibility that an usually high number of students will opt to live on campus, Gay acknowledged.

“Certainly, as we contemplate the fall, we are thinking hard about what enrollment might be like, and what it means to continue to pursue residential liberal arts education in a context where we may have a larger number of students enrolled,” Gay said.

Harvard previously stated that it cannot guarantee housing during the 2021-2022 academic year to students who took time off this past year.

As Harvard approaches the one-year anniversary of its shift to remote operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Gay said she was “enormously proud” of the “incredible resilience” of Harvard affiliates, citing staff, faculty, and students’ flexibility to adapt to remote learning and teaching.

“Even through [the pandemic], we’ve actually managed to also have some positive experiences,” Gay said. “Our faculty have brought creative and innovative approaches to remote teaching.”

“Our students have embraced the opportunities of remote learning and have worked incredibly hard to make the most of what has been a challenging, challenging year, and certainly not what they imagined college to be,” she added.

Gay said her “greatest disappointment” in planning for the current school year was not providing sophomores at the College the opportunity to return to Harvard’s campus.

“If there is a single great kind of regret, it would be that sophomores have had to stay off campus for this long,” she said.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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