Return-to-campus planning

Dear Members of the Harvard Chan School Community,

After more than a year of working and learning remotely, being away from friends and colleagues, and existing in a constant state of uncertainty, we are all more than ready for our lives to return to something resembling normal. With the rollout of vaccines across the country, a new normal is on the horizon, allowing us to begin the process of returning to campus in the coming months.

We hope you have had a chance to read the email from President Lawrence Bacow, Provost Alan Garber, and Executive Vice President Katie Lapp that was sent earlier today, which targets Monday, August 2, as the date when all will be authorized to return to campus. The University leaders also noted that each school will take the lead in planning for return of their employees based on their own needs and priorities, adopting a variety of flexible approaches and with varying return-to-campus dates.

Although the University’s message provides a specific date when faculty and staff are authorized to return to campus, our School’s approach will likely involve phases and is not yet tied to specific dates. With safety as our top priority, and in recognition of the constraints imposed by the physical layouts of our buildings, we are focusing first and foremost on our two core activities: research and education.

In April, assuming COVID trends continue to improve, we plan to pilot limited access for dry-lab researchers to return to their offices. In this first phase, we also hope to have an option for a small number of spring course instructors who have challenging teaching environments at home to teach remotely from designated Zoom-ready classrooms on campus. Communications on policies and process for re-entry will be sent directly to the dry-lab research community and spring instructors in the next few weeks.

As we continue to develop our education plans for the fall, our goal is to have as much in-person learning as possible. Therefore, faculty and staff who support our students and educational programs will be the priority group for returning to campus in the next phase. The health and safety of our Harvard Chan community and the greater Boston community are paramount, and we must remain flexible. We expect to be able to share more details on fall education planning within the next two weeks.

Since our plan is a phased transition back to campus, many of us, especially staff who aren’t needed on-site for research or educational support, will continue to work remotely past August 2. We will consult with the departments and units at the School, as well as seek your direct input, in the coming weeks to help us plan for the right timing to bring people with different roles and functions back to campus. To the best of our ability, we will aim to give at least three months’ notice about the timing of your return, so you will be able to make plans for yourselves and your families.

We intend to be flexible with regard to remote work and other workplace policies this fall. The University is working to update its workforce and human resources policies, and we will share any updates and their implications for our School as soon as we are able. Our Office of Human Resources will be sending a survey to staff in the coming days to ask for feedback on remote work. This feedback will be valuable as we plan for our transition back to campus.

Of course, our planning will depend on the trajectory of the pandemic, and we will continue to follow guidance from the CDC, the Commonwealth, the University, and our own public health experts. We also are cognizant that our community is international, and thus that individual decisions will have to be made based on many different local and personal contexts. This could impact our decision-making in ways we cannot yet anticipate as we plan this return to campus for our whole community of students, scholars, and staff. We ask you to be optimistic, but also flexible, as conditions evolve. We will communicate further information as it becomes available and will keep you up to date as the planning proceeds.

We have been deeply impressed by the way our community has dealt with this difficult year. You have demonstrated grace, compassion, adaptability, persistence, and perseverance in continuing to carry out your work and do your part, even throughout the vagaries of the pandemic. We are profoundly grateful.

As always, please continue to take care of yourself and others. We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Michelle, Jane, Katie

Michelle A. Williams
Dean of the Faculty
Angelopoulos Professor in Public Health and International Development

Jane J. Kim
Dean for Academic Affairs
K.T. Li Professor of Health Economics

Katherine A. Hope
Executive Dean for Administration