A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Fellows,

I hope you are all well and safe. The past year has been difficult and demanding in so many ways, but the future is looking brighter, at least regarding the pandemic in the United States. I am writing now to update you on our planning for the summer and fall, which involves returning to campus in late summer if all goes well.

Today we are sending congratulatory letters to the outstanding applicants for our master’s degree programs whom we are accepting for the coming year. We mention that we are planning for in-person classes but also preparing backup plans:

“The coronavirus pandemic has brought tragedy and disruption around the world during the past year, but we see brighter days ahead. For the Kennedy School, we expect that increasing availability of vaccines will enable our students, faculty, and staff who follow designated health protocols to interact safely on campus by the Fall semester. Therefore, we are planning for in-person classes, although we are also developing backup plans in case health protocols set by Massachusetts and Harvard University this Fall limit the allowable density on campus. If you enroll, you should plan to live in the Cambridge area for the full academic year so that you can be engaged in the Kennedy School community as we return to a more typical mode of operation. Still, uncertainty about future health conditions and protocols will remain, and we all need to be flexible and willing to adapt as conditions require.”
Throughout the past year, our goal at the Kennedy School has been to continue our vital mission while protecting the health of the School community and doing our part to help protect the health of the Greater Boston community. That remains our goal, and the other leaders of the School and I are delighted and relieved that widespread COVID-19 vaccinations and other safety measures should enable us to stay healthy while coming back together on campus for the fall.

For the summer, the mid-career summer program from early July to early August will be online, and we will plan for portions of the Mason fall launch to occur in person in the second half of August. We will also plan for opportunities later in August for members of the mid-career class to gather in person for community-building activities and for incoming students in our other programs to engage in some orientation and pre-orientation activities on campus. 

For the fall, we will plan for degree-program classes to be conducted in person and for most other activities to occur in person as well. Executive-education programs will continue to operate online through the end of the fall semester, which will help to reduce the demands for classroom space and mingling space on campus. Our plans to be on campus are conditional on the leaders of Massachusetts and Harvard concluding that vaccinations, masking, testing, good ventilation, and other protocols are sufficient to protect health so that distancing protocols can be relaxed enough that we can achieve something close to our normal density. 

Given recent health news, that sort of progress seems plausible—yet far from guaranteed. If, instead, we need to continue to adhere to much lower density, then we will need to limit our in-person activities. For classes, that may require teaching and learning in a simultaneous-hybrid model; for other activities, that may require continued use of online methods. We will make further decisions about these specifics as more health information becomes available in the coming months, and I ask for your patience in the meantime.

To accompany this hoped-for return to our typical mode of learning for our students, we expect that many faculty, staff, and fellows will return to campus in early August, although some may be asked to wait until later in August or September to create a smoother re-entry process. Through the end of July, as more people become vaccinated and the course of the pandemic in the Boston area becomes clearer, we plan to maintain our current posture of limited and controlled access to campus with prior approval. Then we plan to expand campus use in a phased way so that many of us will be in place again by the time that students start to arrive in mid-August while others may not be back until later. 

We understand that the return to campus will be complicated for some faculty, staff, and fellows—and more concerning and difficult for some than for others. We will give everyone as much advance notice as possible regarding the timing and procedures for their own return to campus, and we will accommodate individual needs as much as we can while ensuring that we meet our collective responsibilities. We also plan to pilot expanded remote-work options for some staff this fall. As with the learning plans for our students, our plans for the return to campus for faculty, staff, and fellows will be developed more specifically as additional health information becomes available.
I am very pleased that we can be planning realistically for a return to campus, but I want to emphasize the considerable uncertainty we face about future health conditions and protocols.  We have greatly appreciated how members of the Kennedy School community have been impressively flexible and adaptable during the past year, and I ask you to continue in that way for the coming months.