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Six Harvard Graduate Schools To Conduct Classes Online in Fall 2020

The Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education. By Lu Shao
By Michelle G. Kurilla and Kavya M. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: June 3, 2020, at 7:23 p.m.

Six of Harvard’s 12 degree-granting schools will conduct classes remotely during the fall semester, they announced Wednesday.

Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Harvard Divinity School will hold classes online in the upcoming term; Harvard Graduate School of Education will conduct its classes and operations online for the entire 2020-2021 academic year.

Graduate School of Education Dean Bridget T. Long wrote in an email to affiliates that the school's decision “largely centers” on “disruptions to residential learning” as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“In addition to the strong likelihood of intermittent periods of quarantine (orders to remain at home), we expect distancing measures will need to be in place through the entire academic year to continue to mitigate the spread of the virus,” Long wrote. “This scenario presents many challenges and likely multiple interruptions to an on-campus program, which would result in a severely altered experience that could compromise the HGSE learning experience.”

“Based on our specific context, programs, and diverse student body, we are not confident we can bring students to the HGSE campus in a safe, equitable, sustained way,” she added.

The Graduate School of Education already boasts a “strong track record” of experience in providing online offerings to students, according to Long’s email. She wrote that courses will be held both asynchronously and synchronously, to account for time zone differences.

“We are certain that the online learning you will undertake will be an experience you will deeply value--one that will prepare you for the changed world you will enter upon graduation,” Long wrote. “Building on our existing offerings, we are crafting online courses and co-curricular experiences that will take advantage of the best that digital learning has to offer, giving you unparalleled access to instructors and to peers.”

She added the school hopes to give students the option to come to campus for “a short residential experience,” and for Commencement, in May 2021, if public health conditions permit.

The changes the school plans to put in place will be more comprehensive than an attempt to shift its usual operations online, according to Long.

“In sum, this coming year will not simply be ‘HGSE online.’ This will be HGSE transformed,” Long said.

Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 wrote in an email to affiliates Wednesday that the school found it “necessary” to hold courses online in the fall.

“While we will keep you apprised as we learn more, we must now turn our focus fully to developing the best, most robust, highest-quality online academic, clinical, and extracurricular programming we can for the coming term,” he wrote.

The school will hold “comprehensive” online programming to support incoming students and work to create “meaningful interactions and connections outside the classroom and for supporting the extracurriculars that are an integral part of your law school experience,” per the email.

Manning wrote that the Law School will also work to address the difficulties some students face with remote learning environments, time zones, and available technology. He announced the school would create a Technology Assistance Fund, which will provide $1 million to help students overcome technological challenges in online learning; increase the times courses are available; and prioritize the use HLS dorms for those who need them.

Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote in an announcement to school affiliates Wednesday that the school “very reluctantly” concluded its instruction will occur exclusively online this fall.

Students will be able to choose whether they would like to defer, but tuition for the fall semester will remain the same, per the announcement.

“We are giving you another opportunity now to choose to defer before starting at the School,” Elmendorf wrote. “In contrast with our usual approach to deferrals—which requires that students demonstrate individual hardships or compelling alternative uses of their time—these deferrals are available to all of you who would prefer doing other activities in the coming year rather than being part of the Kennedy School remotely.”

School of Public Health Dean Michelle A. Williams wrote in an email to affiliates Wednesday that the school’s own public health and infectious disease experts still observe in their work that the future is uncertain. Williams wrote the school cannot “ensure” a safe in-person semester, adding that reopening will take place in “phases.”

“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,” Williams wrote. “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,” she added.

Divinity School Dean David N. Hempton wrote in an announcement Wednesday that the school will conduct all classes online this fall.

“With steps such as smaller class sizes, tuition on a per-course basis and flexible course loads, technological aides, and out-of-class virtual gathering and study opportunities, HDS faculty and staff are determined to do all in their power to recreate online the individualized instruction and community experience that are a hallmark of our educational mission,” Hempton wrote.

Design School Dean Sarah M. Whiting wrote in an email Wednesday to Design School affiliates that three factors influenced their decision: the safety of Design School affiliates, entry concerns for international students, and housing security in Cambridge.

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

—Staff writer Kavya M. Shah can be reached at

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