May/June 2021Vol. XXXIII No. 5

MIT Plans for the Fall Semester

Cynthia Barnhart

At the April 21 and May 12, 2021 Institute Faculty Meetings, I joined several colleagues to update the MIT community on the state of our planning for the fall 2021 semester.

As I write this in the middle of May, we are on track to implement the framework President Reif announced in March: a return to full academic and research activities by the start of the new academic year in September.

All students have been invited to be in our residence halls, classrooms, and laboratories so that they can take part in in-person learning, research, and co-curricular and athletic activities. Faculty and staff who worked on campus before Covid and have not yet returned have been told to plan for resuming in-person work by September 7, 2021. We will know more later this summer about what “in-person work” looks like for fall in terms of days and hours on campus, but faculty and staff should be in the area and be prepared for in-person teaching, meetings, and other types of work they engaged in before the pandemic.

At the same time, the Work Succeeding effort to define new ways of working is well underway. Models will be piloted this fall so that we can create a roadmap for how to work together more flexibly, effectively, and equitably. And we fully expect that many of the successful learning methods deployed during the pandemic will continue to be leveraged in the coming academic year.

There are admittedly many decisions that need to be made to give our community a ore complete picture of what to expect in the fall.

We have relied on faculty meetings, 8 am morning calls, student office hours, and a host of committees and working groups with broad representation to engage our community in fall planning efforts. In order to help everyone prepare for the fall, our goal is to make timely decisions based on sound science; on the lessons we’ve learned throughout the current academic year; and in support of creating a safe campus environment that will enable us to advance MIT’s academic and research mission.

Summary of next steps in the fall planning process

Here is a brief summary of the decisions that we have already made, or will be making, in the near term:

  • Following consultation with medical experts, consideration of best public health practices, a review of how other institutions of higher education are approaching student vaccine requirements, and state and national guidance, we are requiring every student to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before the fall semester begins. We will work to accommodate those students who cannot be vaccinated due to medical or religious reasons.

  • We are still considering whether to pursue a vaccine requirement for MIT staff, faculty, contractors, and others who will regularly access campus in the fall. To help us make an informed decision, all employees, contractors, and other workers were told to share their current vaccine status with us by May 23. We expect to be able to inform the MIT community in early June whether an employee vaccine requirement will be implemented for the fall.

  • As the vaccination rate within our community increases, the need for policies to keep our community safe from Covid decreases. We fully expect that many of the Covid-era limitations on campus and building access, room capacity,guests in residence halls,and events and gatherings will either be much less restrictive or eliminated in the fall. We do not know yet whether additional visiting appointments such as visiting students and scholars will remain paused for fall as we increase the MIT community density. We do, however, expect to expand the types of campus visits that enable, for example, admissions tours, workshops, and other campus events and academic collaborations.

  • As noted above, we expect that students and faculty and instructors will be teaching and learning in-person. We recognize that there could be exceptional situations to this requirement and we will evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.

  • To support the “slow dialing-up” for summer that President Reif described in his March letter, capacity restrictions in labs and offices will be lifted in early June to accommodate employees and students who are currently in Covid Pass and working on campus and in off-campus research facilities such as Bates. While eating indoors together has been limited intentionally in our non-residential buildings, this restriction will also be relaxed with some prudent guidelines for those working on campus this summer.

    We will continue to evaluate all other areas of Covid policy, and be prepared to make changes based on the latest public health data and state and city requirements.

In conclusion

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the students, faculty, and staff who came to campus throughout the current academic year as well as those who have been studying or working remotely. It hasn’t been easy, but we have our sights on the future as we look forward to the fall and a return to the rhythms and connections of campus life that we have all sorely missed during the pandemic.

Please note that a decision on whether to implement an employee vaccine requirement was expected to be announced to the MIT community the week of May 31, 2021. Check MIT Now for the latest updates.