Harvard Kennedy School will offer exclusively online teaching and learning this fall semester, HKS Dean Douglas Elmendorf announced today.

“For the fall, we are reimagining parts of our courses and other activities to take advantage of technology’s possibilities rather than just live with technology’s restrictions,” Elmendorf said in a letter to incoming and returning students. “We intend to deliver high-quality, rigorous course offerings of the sort that attracted you to the Kennedy School. Our faculty and staff members with the greatest expertise in online teaching and learning design will be working with their colleagues through the summer to develop creative new approaches to the wide range of courses we offer—including greater faculty-student engagement in small groups, more peer-to-peer engagement, more visits by senior policymakers with opportunities for personal interaction, and more.”

Read Dean Elmendorf’s full letter and the School’s FAQs on fall semester planning.

The dean noted that illnesses and cases of COVID-19 pandemic are declining in Massachusetts, allowing phased reopening of some activities, and the Kennedy School is undertaking extensive physical and technological upgrades to prepare for campus life to resume.

“However, after reviewing the situation very closely, we have determined that even this extensive planning and preparation cannot overcome all the obstacles we face to safe and effective learning on campus,” Elmendorf said.

He mentioned two key factors: first, the need to maintain distancing and avoid crowding would have imposed severe constraints on student access to classrooms and other campus spaces. Also, there is still a risk that a disease flareup in the fall could force another campus closure, placing unfair burdens on students and families, especially for international students. Each year, students from about 100 countries enroll in HKS graduate degree programs.

“Fortunately, many faculty and staff members at the Kennedy School are already working hard to make remote learning during the fall semester an exceptional experience—albeit a different experience than we are accustomed to,” Elmendorf said. “We are working not just to replace what might have happened in person, but to create new opportunities for you to engage with our faculty and with each other. Although we cannot be together in person, we are confident we can be together—learning and building community—online.”

Elmendorf expressed pride in the vital scholarship and community involvement by HKS faculty, staff, and students to respond to the pandemic: “From effective public management to economic policy, democracy and human rights, international relations and health policy, we have been vigorously involved in helping public leaders and officials around the world respond to this crisis.”

Read more on the Kennedys School’s response to the pandemic.