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Provost’s update on winter quarter plans

Category: Provost


  • Hybrid instruction to continue in winter quarter, with most classes remote
  • Stanford’s plan to offer on-campus housing to frosh, sophomores is proceeding
  • In early part of quarter, expect increased student testing, in-person limitations to support community health
  • Limited staff expected to return from remote work during winter quarter

Dear Stanford community,

Thank you for all you have been doing to continue education and research at Stanford through this pandemic. I am continually impressed by your resilience and creativity, and I’m deeply grateful for the sacrifices you have been making to advance our mission while also protecting public health.

I am writing to update you on our planning for the winter quarter, which begins Monday, January 11 (January 4 for many students in professional schools). In addition to the information below, we are beginning an FAQ for undergraduate and graduate students that will be built out with more details as we approach winter quarter.

To ground our planning, we have been carefully evaluating the public health situation on campus and in our surrounding region; the state and local health rules that apply to Stanford; and our ability to provide on-campus opportunities while protecting public health. We’ve been assessing our experiences this autumn quarter, and we’ve been talking to peer institutions to understand what has gone well, and not well, for them.

We’ve aimed to be realistic in our assessment of the situation, and of our options for the winter. Currently we are seeing low prevalence rates of COVID-19 at Stanford overall, despite the surge in cases being seen in some other places. We’ve worked through scenarios for the challenges we could face this winter, to ensure we are prepared to respond. We’ve also been listening to our community, and we’ve heard from those eager to resume activities quickly, as well as from those concerned about resuming too quickly.

The threat posed by COVID-19 remains very real. We must continue taking steps to protect the health of our university community. We’re also committed to a gradual resumption of activities as health conditions allow, to bring us closer to a “new normal.” All of these factors have influenced our next steps below:

  • Instruction: We plan to continue operating in a hybrid model for the winter quarter, with most instruction being delivered remotely. This is the approach we laid out for the 2020-21 year, and it continues to be necessary because (1) we are unable to have all undergraduates back in our campus residences all at once, and (2) we lack the number of large classrooms necessary to teach entirely in-person while providing sufficient physical distancing. We will provide in-person classes where feasible, including labs and other classes that cannot reasonably be taught remotely, though these will continue to be limited and subject to indoor capacity limits.

    We expect the first two weeks of instruction to be fully online, to allow sufficient time for students who are newly arriving on campus or returning from winter break travels to complete their initial COVID-19 testing and settle into the campus environment safely. Lab classes may be allowed in person in Week 2, if conditions permit.
  • Undergraduate housing: We are still planning to allow frosh, sophomores, new transfer students, and other undergraduates who have approved academic, athletic or personal exceptions to reside on-campus for the winter quarter, if they wish to.

    The indications currently are that we will be able to proceed with this plan. The principal factors that could lead to a change would be significant changes in prevalence rates here on campus and in our surrounding community, and significant changes in the state and local public health requirements that apply to Stanford. If these necessitate a change in our approach, we plan to notify you before Stanford’s Winter Close begins on December 14. We encourage students to make refundable travel plans, just in case.

    In all scenarios we plan to continue accommodating students approved with special circumstances on campus.

    Undergraduates will not be required to be on campus in order to continue receiving a Stanford education; most courses will continue to be available remotely. For undergraduates eligible to return, the choice to be on campus will be yours. In order to support physical distancing, our undergraduate housing will provide each student a private sleeping space in a single room, a two-room double or an apartment-style unit. Students will receive more information about housing assignments later this month.
  • Graduate housing: Our on-campus and off-campus graduate housing programs will continue in the same manner they have during the autumn quarter.
  • Health and safety: Adherence to safety protocols will continue to be critical in limiting virus spread. It will continue to be reflected in our Campus Compact, as well. With the increase in our residential campus population and the rise in cases we are seeing elsewhere in the nation, COVID-19 testing for students will be required twice weekly at the beginning of the quarter; we may reduce this to once weekly if our medical experts deem it advisable and safe to do so. We’ll also continue to require all community members to wear face coverings, maintain physical distancing, use Health Check daily to self-report health status, and engage in other hygiene best practices to keep one another safe.
  • Campus life in the winter quarter: There will be many health-driven limitations on campus life during the winter quarter, as now, though we will work to loosen these if conditions allow.

    For the first two weeks of the quarter (until approximately January 22), in addition to all instruction being remote, there will be no in-person gatherings. Households will be able to form after Week 2 of the quarter, if conditions permit. We know that many students have been safely creating households and inviting essential visitors to campus since these activities have been allowed. To keep the campus community safe, during this brief window at the start of the quarter, existing households will not be allowed to gather, and only essential visitors who are providing an accommodation-related service or child care will be permitted.

    Our campus policies currently limit in-person gatherings. Our hope is to gradually provide more flexibility over the course of the quarter, beginning with expanded university-sponsored activities, broadening to approved activities of voluntary student organizations, and ultimately extending to other student activities. However, this progression will be dependent on public health conditions and on our community’s compliance with campus health and safety protocols, including testing.

    While we have seen generally good rates of compliance this quarter, it hasn’t been 100% on every measure. Our ability to loosen restrictions after the start of the quarter will depend on full participation in public health requirements, and we are developing ways to embed participation reminders and encouragements in student residential communities to help us move to full participation.
  • Changes over the course of the quarter: A winter COVID-19 surge remains possible, and we have been planning for such a contingency. Students planning to live on campus should know it is possible that we may need to return to all-remote instruction for some period of time, or to tighten policies around gatherings and other aspects of campus life, if we see a significant surge in cases.
  • University staff: Finally, I want to say a word to our dedicated Stanford staff who have supported the university through a most difficult period. This includes those who have been working largely remotely, and also the frontline workers who have directly supported our students throughout the pandemic. I greatly appreciate the work you are doing, and I know the competing demands many of you are balancing, including home and family responsibilities.

    As we bring more students back to campus, we will need more in-person staffing in certain designated areas. These will be limited in scope, and only those individuals approved by their school/unit leadership will be able to return to on-site work. Health and safety will be a top priority for staff returning to campus. In general, unless notified of the requirement to return, staff should plan to continue working remotely until at least March 31. More information is on the Cardinal at Work website, and please be in touch with your local HR manager with questions.

I know students and families will have more questions about the path ahead, and I encourage you to consult the FAQ for some of the initial answers we’ve begun compiling for you. We’ll continue to provide more information as we have it. Thank you – and I look forward to seeing each of you, once again, at the earliest possible time!


Persis Drell