Brown’s planning for the 2020-21 academic year

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Brown’s planning for the 2020-21 academic year


Christina H. Paxson




May 7, 2020

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I hope you are all doing well as you finish the semester or, in the case of members of our new Class of 2024, complete high school. Everyone at Brown is eager to see you on College Hill.

This priority message re-states the contents of an email sent yesterday, as Brown is committed to using all available channels to communicate regarding this public health crisis.

To our graduating seniors, congratulations on being so close to getting your degrees! I am looking forward to the Virtual Degree Conferral ceremony on May 24, which you can learn more about here:

None of us expected that we would be apart for this important moment marking your achievements at Brown, but we already are planning ahead for the time we can be together again to cheer on the Class of 2020 for the celebration of Commencement.

While I hoped that the state of the pandemic would allow us to celebrate in October, we have made the decision to host a double Commencement in May 2021, for the Classes of 2020 and 2021. Based on the latest health information and expert guidance, we think it is likely that large gatherings still will not be possible early in the fall. Our graduating seniors will have the opportunity to celebrate their Commencement and their first Reunion at the same time.


As national conversations continue about the uncertain trajectory of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and what it means for colleges like Brown that offer residential experiences, I want to provide an update on planning for the reopening of the Brown campus. As I have shared previously, Brown’s plans are based on two foundational principles: (1) first and foremost, to protect the health of our students and employees to the best extent possible, and (2) to provide all of our students with an excellent academic experience.

The mode of how we deliver the educational experience at Brown next year may very likely look different than in past years, but I want to provide the assurance that how we conduct the year will be based on the best expert advice for safeguarding the health of our community and maintaining Brown’s high standards of teaching and learning.

We are planning for a range of different scenarios for the coming year, including variations of the following:

-- A scenario in which we are able to follow our normal academic calendar, welcoming all students back to campus in the fall. (We know that this is optimistic, and it’s largely dependent on the progress in testing and treatment I have noted below.)

-- A scenario in which the University offers three semesters of instruction next year and arranges for undergraduate students to be on campus for two of these semesters, thus providing an environment with fewer students on campus at any one time.

-- A scenario in which health conditions are such that the fall semester has to be conducted remotely, with a decision about the spring to be made in the middle of the fall semester.

There could be various modifications under any on-campus scenario — reduction in class sizes, hybrid online and in-person learning with livestreamed lectures and smaller group discussion sessions, etc. — depending on containment of the novel coronavirus. In addition, even for an on-campus scenario, we’re planning for delivering education remotely for students who are unable to return to campus because of travel restrictions or health conditions.

I plan to make a decision about Brown’s planned approach no later than July 15. There will be decisions about various academic programs that we have to make sooner, based on factors that include ongoing limitations to international travel (affecting study abroad, for instance), and program schedules that require early decisions for on-campus activities that usually take place during the late summer. These decisions will be announced as they are made.

I understand that many of you are eager to know what next year will bring, and I would like nothing better than to give you definitive information sooner. However, there is still so much we don’t know about the course of the pandemic. In the coming months, we will learn how health conditions evolve as the U.S. economy begins to reopen, and how quickly innovations in testing, contact tracing and treatment occur. By waiting, we will be able to weigh these factors to make a better and more fully informed decision, which is in the best interest of the health of our community. I appreciate your patience.

On Sunday, May 17, we will send new and continuing students a survey to get your thoughts about the choices you would most likely make under each of the scenarios currently under consideration. This confidential survey will be used solely to guide and refine our plans. Your answers will not commit you to making future choices.

I strongly encourage you to take the survey. Your input is essential for helping us plan for an academic year that best meets the interests of Brown students. Following the conclusion of the survey, we will host virtual town halls for continuing and new students to share updates on planning. More details will be shared in the coming weeks.

I want nothing more than to see all of you in person and on campus, as soon as is safely possible. Although the course of the pandemic is beyond our control, we are working as hard as we can to make that a reality. In the meantime, I hope that you and your loved ones stay healthy and well in the weeks and months ahead.


Christina H. Paxson
Brown University


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