Travel restrictions, fewer students on campus and primarily online instruction: A Stanford University education will look vastly different when the fall quarter begins.
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell announced on Wednesday initial plans for reopening campus the next academic year while working to limit the spread of the coronavirus, with the caveat that the plans are subject to local public health conditions and guidance.
They said "(We) want to plan for a scenario that we have a high degree of confidence we can stick to, even if COVID-19 infections increase in a second wave. Shutting down mid-quarter and sending students home would not be a desirable outcome for anyone."
Online teaching will be the "default," though some in-person classes will be offered "as much as is safe and feasible for students and faculty who are present on campus," Tessier-Lavigne and Drell said. Any class larger than 50 students will likely need to be taught online. Class times will likely extend from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. "to make the best use of our classroom spaces," they said. For some classes that can only be held in person, they might be offered several times a year as different groups of students return to campus.
"The rapid switch to online learning this spring left little time for instructors to redesign their courses for an online format, and the priority was ensuring that students could finish out the academic year. In preparation for next year, teaching and learning experts from across campus are making themselves available to instructors to optimize their course offerings for online delivery," Tessier-Lavigne and Drell said. "We are also looking at ways to better replicate other features of in-person teaching, such as small group interactions, academic support and peer-to-peer learning."
To allow for social distancing, the university is planning to allow only half of all undergraduate students to live on campus for a quarter, with each group alternating every quarter. The academic year will start one week earlier, on Sept. 14., and be extended into a four-quarter year through the summer. Most students take three quarters of courses, so this would allow all undergraduates to have at least two quarters of living on campus — unless the coronavirus spikes again and requires the university to shrink the number of students on campus.
Undergrads will take their final exams remotely.
Stanford plans to prioritize freshmen and transfer students for the fall quarter "to allow them to get to know our campus, form community and begin their Stanford careers in the most positive way." Graduating seniors will take priority in the spring quarter. Staff are "having conversations with faculty and students about different options for bringing students back, whether by class year or by another rubric that aligns with the academic programs we offer," Tessier-Lavigne and Drell said.
All undergraduates will live on campus in rooms with private sleeping spaces, such as a single or a two-room double, to "limit the risk of disease transmission between students in a multi-occupancy room," Tessier-Lavigne and Drell wrote. It will also "have the important benefit of providing quieter spaces with less distraction for students engaged in online coursework," they said. They also want to have sufficient space on campus to allow students to quarantine or self-isolate in the event of a "resurgence of infections."
The university is also planning for a "limited" number of spaces for students who have a need to be on campus during breaks or the entire school year due to special circumstances, as they did during spring quarter for students who couldn't leave campus.
Stanford doesn't expect any major changes for graduate student housing, which is mostly apartments that allow for greater physical distancing.
Students will likely have to wear masks on campus. Stanford will ask them not to travel outside the local area, or else self-isolate when they return. Campus events and gatherings will be limited. Social distancing will be required in buildings and common spaces.
"For our incoming first-year undergraduates, we know this is not how you originally envisioned beginning your college career," Tessier-Lavigne and Drell said. "But we will work to make the coming year as rich and rewarding an experience as possible within the constraints of this unusual time we are living through."
(They noted that any students who choose to take a gap year instead must notify the admissions office by June 15.)
A Stanford committee led by dean of the School of Medicine, Lloyd Minor, is working on recommendations for a university-wide plan for testing, contact tracing and isolation.
The university plans to provide more information about the 2020-21 year by the end of June and is accepting input via email at email@example.com.