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Spring quarter update

Categories: Academics, Campus, Health & safety, Help & support, Leadership communications, President

To our Stanford community,

As you know, the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve rapidly. We communicated with you last Friday about our plans for the rest of winter quarter, but the beginning of spring quarter also is quickly approaching on March 30. We know that many of you need to make plans for academic coursework and travel. With that in mind we have been working to make additional decisions expeditiously, in order to give you as much advance notice as possible.

At the highest level, we want to maintain spring quarter education and research activities to the greatest extent possible, most especially for students who anticipate receiving their Stanford degree this spring. We also know that epidemiological modeling and the expanding availability of testing suggest that the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to grow, including in the region around us. Based on what we are hearing from public health experts, we can expect that the virus will still pose a major challenge by the time spring quarter begins.

As a result, we are taking these steps:

SPRING QUARTER CLASSES: Stanford will begin the spring quarter on time, but we will use virtual learning, rather than in-person classes, until further notice. This is a continuation of the policy we established for the end of winter quarter. Provost Drell has been in touch with the school deans and the chair of the Faculty Senate as we have deliberated on this decision.

We recognize that this means a significant adjustment for many instructors. We will continue to provide assistance to you as you plan, including through the website. This path also poses challenges for some courses that cannot reasonably meet virtually (for instance, lab courses or performance-based courses). We are in close touch with school deans who are communicating with departments about these kinds of situations, and we will have more guidance soon. Graduating students are very much on our minds, and we are paying particular attention to the course needs of that group.

UNDERGRADUATE HOUSING: Because undergraduates live on our campus in highly communal dormitories and Row houses, with shared bathrooms and dining facilities, we have concluded that reducing the concentration of people in these spaces is essential to helping reduce the risk of virus spread during this next critical phase of COVID-19’s evolution. As such, we are asking undergraduates to leave campus at the end of the quarter if it is possible for them given their personal circumstances. For students receiving financial aid, assistance to travel home will be available where needed.

To support this effort:

  • Undergraduates who have already left, or will be leaving, campus as the winter quarter ends should not plan to return to campus until further notice. You will be able to take your coursework virtually, as described above. Exceptions will be available for students who need to return to campus for unavoidable reasons; we know that some international students and other students may not have viable alternatives to returning to campus. Information on requesting these exceptions will be sent in a subsequent email.
  • For undergraduates who are currently on campus and feel they need to remain here through the spring break and the spring quarter, you are welcome to do so. The university will continue to support you through Vaden Health Center and the residences; however, you should know that other university programming will be quite limited. We will be requiring all undergraduates and co-terms residing in undergraduate housing who wish to remain on campus to submit a request through an online web form, which again will be available in a subsequent email. It is important for us to know who remains on campus, in part to provide support to you in the case of illness.

We know this step, like the move to remote coursework, represents a major shift in our normal operations. We expect you will have many questions, and we will be doing our best to address and answer them in an expeditious way. An initial set of FAQs for undergraduates has been posted, and we will continue to add information as it becomes available.

GRADUATE STUDENTS AND POSTDOCS: In contrast with undergraduates, graduate students typically have different and less communal living situations, and of course for many graduate students, Stanford is their year-round home and the home of their families. Many graduate students also have research projects that need their ongoing attention. Therefore, we are not asking graduate students to leave their on-campus housing.

We deeply value the essential role that both graduate students and postdoctoral scholars play in our institution’s academic mission. We will continue providing health guidance that aims to support your personal health and safety. We also understand that you will have questions and concerns about potential disruptions to your academic progress or research projects. We hope to minimize these disruptions, and we pledge to stay in touch with you as we make further decisions based on the best public health guidance.

Vice Provost Stacey Bent shared more on these topics in an email last evening; our professional schools will be releasing additional guidance for their students; and we will continue to update FAQs for researchers on the website.

FACULTY AND STAFF: While we are making these changes regarding in-person classes and undergraduate housing, the university remains open in order to continue fulfilling its mission to the greatest extent possible. We are asking for your help in this effort, and your personal health and safety are critical as we do this.

The single most important thing you can do is stay home if you’re sick. Using good personal hygiene and practicing social distancing in the workplace, including using Zoom in place of large-group meetings, are also important steps you can take to help protect yourself and the larger community. Where these practices are insufficient, telecommuting may be an option for some employees, through individual consultations with their managers about the circumstances involved. There is information on the website about these issues, and more will be added as we work through issues of concern to you.

A FINAL WORD: Clearly, the coronavirus continues to spread, both in Santa Clara County and in other places around the globe. For many people who are infected, the symptoms appear to be manageable, even mild in some cases. But particularly for those who are older or who have compromised immune systems, infection poses a serious danger. There also are many things about COVID-19 that we simply do not understand at present. At Stanford we have a large and diverse community of people, of all ages and health conditions. We must take steps that provide for the safety of everyone, including those in our community who may be among the more vulnerable to this disease.

As I have shared with you previously, in our university response we have been working to balance two imperatives: ensuring that we take precautions to protect our community and communities beyond our campus, while sustaining our educational and research mission in ways that are appropriate under the circumstances. Ever since the community spread of the virus first began to appear in California, we have been taking escalating actions as we have monitored the infection spread, received the latest public health guidance from experts, and considered the needs of our community – all with this balancing in mind.

We know the steps we are now taking represent a major change for our community, and we know not everyone may feel that a given action by the university is needed in their own situation. We are working to provide for the needs of our entire community, including the most vulnerable, in an extraordinary moment as we confront a rapidly evolving public health threat. I deeply appreciate the many people who have responded in a spirit of understanding and partnership, true to the very best of Stanford, motivated by the same desire to continue our important work while also protecting the health of our friends, neighbors and colleagues.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne