Education Plans for the Fall

Dear Harvard Chan School Community,

The unrest of the past days has reminded us of the long road toward social justice and has increased our distress in an already heartbreaking new reality. But each of you, like me, is also thinking about how our School will move forward during the pandemic and I did not want to delay in communicating our plans for the fall. We all wish that the School’s activities were not significantly impacted by COVID-19, but they continue to be and I’m writing now to let you know that we have made the decision to hold courses online during the fall semester (Fall1 and Fall2).

We are carefully following the COVID-19 trends and the decisions that are being made locally, nationally, and globally. It won’t surprise you that, even with the plans being made for reopening cities and businesses, much remains uncertain. Indeed, the insight and expertise of our own epidemiology, infectious disease, and environmental health experts have helped to remind us that we cannot know what the state of the world will be several months from now.

What is clear is that the safety of the Harvard Chan School community is paramount, that we cannot ensure a safe return to in-person instruction in a way that would facilitate learning, and that, when the right time comes, we will bring our students and instructors together back on campus in carefully planned phases. Our students—U.S. and international—must be able to continue their education without fear for their health, and many have expressed wanting to avoid unsafe travel and the need to care for family members. Our actions cannot worsen the public health crisis.

Our academic and administrative leaders have been carefully assessing the School’s physical space and the relationship of our spaces to our educational goals. A primary focus is which educational activities will be included in each phase of return to campus. While we expect plans to evolve as we learn more about the course of the pandemic, we have concluded that the certainty of knowing courses will be taught remotely this fall is the best and safest course of action for our students, faculty, and staff.

During this period of remote instruction, our mission remains the same: to provide an exceptional public health education for our students. We are drawing on student and faculty feedback from the spring semester to continue improving and refining our virtual instruction. In addition, we are developing new educational initiatives that will be distinctive to the Harvard Chan School. We will also develop new ways to build community and nurture the important and less formal social connections within and across our cohorts, programs, and departments, and across Harvard.

I understand there will be many questions about how this decision will affect our learning, teaching, and work. Later today we will be sending further details about fall education to students and faculty. We won’t have all the answers and we will continue to update you as more information becomes available. Please read your emails carefully and visit the Harvard Chan School FAQs for COVID-19 website regularly, where updated entries will be marked as “new” on a rolling basis.

To all of us the world feels upside down, filled with stress and uncertainty. We also see incredible acts of generosity, relentless efforts to address the pandemic and the inequities it exacerbates, as well as opportunities to advance the mission of public health in new and surprising ways. Moving forward will require each of us to be patient, flexible, vigilant, empathetic, and kind. Thank you for being part of our tight-knit Harvard Chan community during this period of physical separation. I have never felt more proud to be working to advance the public’s health at a time when our collective knowledge and efforts have never been more important.



Michelle A. Williams, ScD
Dean of the Faculty, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Angelopoulos Professor in Public Health and International Development, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School