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President’s update on autumn 2020 undergraduate education

Categories: Academics, Campus, Leadership communications, President

Dear Stanford community,

I am writing to let you know that, with great regret, we have made the decision to alter the provisional plans we had announced in June for undergraduate education during the coming autumn quarter. As eager as we have been to bring undergraduates back to campus and to pursue as normal a year as possible, we have concluded for reasons I will explain below that the public health situation due to COVID-19 simply does not make it feasible at this time.

We will not be able to invite first-year, sophomore and new transfer undergraduate cohorts to be in residence on campus for the autumn quarter, as we had hoped. We also are planning for almost all undergraduate instruction to be delivered remotely during the autumn quarter, with very limited in-person offerings. We will continue to offer on-campus housing for those undergraduates who were previously approved to be in residence due to a special circumstance and who continue to wish to be on campus, despite the plan for mostly remote instruction.

Our initial plans for the coming year were developed amid a changing public health situation. At the time, it was reasonable to expect that the situation would continue to improve by this point in the summer. However, as we all have seen, there has been a dramatic reversal in California’s reopening due to the increased spread of COVID-19. There have now been nearly 600,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 10,000 deaths in California, and much of the state, including all of the Bay Area, has been placed on a “watch list” due to worsening trends in public health indicators. In the face of these developments we warned our community that we might have to change our plans, and we have been monitoring trends as we awaited public health guidance, which we knew to be imminent. In parallel, we have been addressing other ramifications of the public health situation, including the Tuesday decision of the Pac-12 to postpone fall sports competition, which was a difficult but necessary step.

Last Friday, the State of California issued guidance for institutions of higher education to inform reopening considerations. We believe this guidance is thoughtful and responsible, reflecting a continued commitment by the State to control the pandemic. The guidance also reflects the deep challenges associated with trying to provide anything close to a “normal” on-campus undergraduate experience given the current state of the pandemic. Significantly, the guidance does not allow most indoor classes as long as the county in which a college or university is located is on the state’s watch list. The guidance also currently prohibits communal dining, most gatherings and social events, the use of indoor common spaces such as lounges, visitors to campus, and other aspects of campus life.

The living, dining and academic experiences of our graduate and professional students are generally quite different than those of our undergraduates. Even with the new guidance, we remain confident in our plans for these students to continue to reside and pursue their degrees on campus if they wish to. We will continue to provide information to graduate students about health protocols, academic program plans and other issues of concern to them.

However, the public health challenges associated with bringing large numbers of undergraduates back to campus dormitory residences under current health conditions, coupled with the limited nature of the on-campus experience we would be able to offer, have led us to the conclusion we are announcing today for our undergraduates. We wanted to share this information with you as quickly as possible following the issuance of the State’s guidance, knowing that many undergraduates and families have travel plans that have been pending. We expect that you will have many questions, and we will be back in touch shortly with more information on issues related to residential staff, international students, financial aid, housing details for undergraduates approved to live on campus due to a special circumstance, and other important topics.

We will continue planning with the hope and expectation of bringing undergraduates back to Stanford at the earliest possible time. If public health conditions allow, we plan to invite frosh, sophomores and new transfer students to be in residence on campus for the winter quarter, and juniors and seniors for the spring quarter. We will turn our attention to summer planning soon. We will share more as we know more, and we will continue to invite your feedback and suggestions.

The timing of our autumn quarter will remain the same as previously announced. Our faculty have been working throughout the summer to create a rich academic experience for the quarter, building on everything we have learned from the online experiences of the spring quarter. That work continues, and all of us at Stanford remain deeply committed to supporting each student in your continued progress toward a Stanford degree. We also appreciate that some students may wish to consider altering their plans. For incoming frosh and transfer students, there will be information on, and for returning students, options for a leave of absence from Stanford will remain available. With respect to undergraduate on-campus housing, if today’s decision gives you concerns about any special circumstances you may have and your access to housing for the autumn, please report your concerns via Service Now by this Sunday, August 16.

This is a disappointing turn of events because so much of what makes Stanford a special place is embodied in the in-person interactions we have here – in the residences, with faculty at office hours, walking with friends across campus, in our student organizations and artistic venues and sporting events. All of us miss the unique, vibrant, palpable spirit of Stanford that is created when we are here together, living and learning in community. Each of us embodies this Stanford spirit, and I am confident that we can sustain the collective energy of our extraordinary community throughout this crisis, until we can be present together once again on the Farm.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne

More information for undergraduates is available on the Re-Approaching Stanford website here.