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Khurana Says Success of Fall COVID-19 Plans Will Inform Spring Decision-Making

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana sits in his office in University Hall during an interview in 2019.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana sits in his office in University Hall during an interview in 2019. By Shera S. Avi-Yonah
By Juliet E. Isselbacher and Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writers

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in a Tuesday interview that the success of Harvard’s residence program this semester has raised the possibility of bringing more students back to campus in the spring.

The College is currently in a “better place” in terms of containing the virus than administrators had initially anticipated when planning for the fall semester, Khurana said.

“Relative to what we were hypothesizing in terms of our models, frequent, high-cadence testing has proven to be effective in our residential community,” Khurana said. “This all bodes well for us to think about how we take the next step.”

Khurana added that Harvard’s “modest approach” to reopening campus — inviting only freshmen and select upperclassmen with extenuating circumstances back — has proven successful. As of Tuesday, the University reported just nine positive tests of undergraduates since June 1. This month, Harvard began reopening some campus common spaces to provide additional study space to undergraduates living in residence.

He added that the final results of the fall semester will shape decisions about the spring, including the shape of the academic calendar and the cohort of students in residence. Should Harvard invite students back to campus in the spring, the College will prioritize the senior class.

Khurana also emphasized that all spring planning is ultimately subject to Boston-area coronavirus case counts and trends.

“Our decision is very much contingent on a number of factors that are not in our direct control, but that we can all collectively impact,” he said.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay also said in an interview with The Crimson last week that Harvard affiliates’ compliance with health guidelines “bodes well” for the prospect of bringing “potentially even more students” back to campus in the spring.

Khurana noted, however, that while administrators have begun thinking about the spring term, the College’s most immediate priority is preparing for end-of-term move-out this semester.

While the College originally planned to invite up to 40 percent of students back to campus this fall, just 25 percent of students decided to live in residence. Students returning to campus agreed to follow strict safety protocols — organized under a Community Compact — which include frequent testing and limited social interaction.

The College also created a disciplinary body composed of student volunteers, faculty, and staff members — the Community Council — to enforce the compact and arbitrate alleged violations.

The Council took its first confirmed disciplinary action earlier this month when it sent home three first-year students living in Mather House for hosting a party in the building with at least three other guests.

A recent survey of undergraduates conducted by The Crimson found that 6 percent of respondents living on campus said they were unlikely or very unlikely to follow the College’s guidance about not attending large gatherings. Sixteen percent said they were unlikely to follow the rule about not inviting people to their dorm rooms.

Asked about the statistics, Khurana emphasized that the U.S. is facing a potential second wave of infection that puts the country’s “most vulnerable” at risk.

“I know that this has presented a personal inconvenience,” he said. “[But] the best way to manage a pandemic or a plague is simple human decency. And I believe that we are a decent community made up of decent people who want to do a decent thing.”

Khurana said he understands that students — like everyone — will make “mistakes and lapses.” Nonetheless, he said he is “grateful” for undergraduates’ generally strong adherence to the College’s health guidelines.

“Our students have turned out to be exactly the kind of people we hope they would be: responsible, caring, worried about their fellow citizens and community members,” he said.

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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