Starting the planning process for spring 2021

October 1, 2020

Dear Homewood Undergraduates:

We continue to be inspired by your commitment to your families and friends, our communities, and our university as we pursue our mission together in the face of the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We wish we could offer something we all want deeply at this moment: certainty about what will happen next.

As you well know, the public health situation is changeable. We are learning more every day about how we can best keep ourselves and those around us safe and also help our tens of thousands of students, faculty, and staff pursue their academic, research, teaching, public service, and work goals across numerous campuses. We have important and difficult decisions ahead of us as we look to the spring semester, and right now we can tell you how we are approaching them, if not where we will ultimately land. 

First, owing to the uncertainties of the pandemic and factors such as holiday travel and seasonal flu, we have determined that our Intersession Program (January 4–22) will be entirely virtual. Continuing to hold classes remotely through January will enable us to maximize the safety of our community while allowing for the wide range of engaging and challenging course offerings that exemplify our intersession experience.

We are considering a number of options for the spring semester itself. We would like to offer everyone who wants to be on campus in person the opportunity to do so, and we are actively preparing for that possibility even as we determine whether it can be accomplished safely. However, if the public health situation requires it, we will continue to hold all classes virtually for the rest of the year. 

Between those extremes, we are considering a range of options that would bring some populations to campus and not others. We will continue the existing process to accommodate those for whom remote learning presents a hardship, and we are prioritizing academic considerations in evaluating which other groups may return to campus. In addition, we are looking at possible changes to the spring academic calendar such as a later start to the term and/or the elimination of spring break, also based on potential for increased health risks owing to seasonal flu and travel.

We will keep you informed of our progress, with updates at least every other week about the planning process and any interim decisions we make. We will provide you with a plan no later than Thanksgiving, if not sooner, with the understanding that we will re-evaluate the public health conditions close to the start of the semester and will not hesitate to change course if a surge in cases locally or nationally threatens the safety of our community.

As we develop our plans, there are things we know for sure. 

Most importantly, the health and safety of our community is paramount, encompassing our students, faculty, staff, and the city of Baltimore. We will rely on the expertise of our world-class public health and medical experts to guide our decisions, in particular our Johns Hopkins Health Advisory Group. We will carefully monitor a number of metrics related to the spread of COVID-19 in our area and around the country, including data-driven forecasting, with no single factor determinative of our ultimate decisions.

With our core principles in place, we will include a number of approaches in our planning:

  • We will listen closely to our faculty, staff, and students and their families to understand their wishes and priorities for the spring semester. Please participate in our periodic surveys and provide your feedback at any time through our online feedback form.
  • If and when we are able to bring students back on campus, we will be fully prepared for all the necessary aspects of our operations, including broad-based COVID testing, physical distancing in classrooms and labs, requirements for self-reporting symptoms, and housing and dining approaches that reduce risk.
  • We will work with our Student Advisory Group, our Academic Advisory Group, and our faculty, deans, and staff to ensure a high-quality experience both virtually and in person, where learning objectives—inside and outside the classroom—can best be met. Academic considerations will drive our decision making.
  • Any in-person activities we conduct this spring will be optional for students and faculty. Regardless of our overall posture, most courses will continue to be offered with an online/remote option, and students will be supported in finding paths to maintain their academic progress on a fully remote basis.
  • In all scenarios, we will strive to ensure that the community bonds between those who come on campus and those who are remote remain strong.
  • We will support our graduate and professional schools and programs in determining the best approach for their students while observing the highest possible safety precautions, understanding they may pursue a variety of approaches.
  • We will closely monitor our fellow higher education institutions to learn all we can about best practices and challenges related to containing the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

With these guidelines in place, and your continuing feedback, our planning task force is determining the best path forward. We welcome your participation in upcoming town halls, including one we will be holding as part of Family Weekend from 6 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2. We also encourage you to stay informed through our Coronavirus Information website and to remain diligent in your own efforts to follow best practices in preventing the spread of COVID, including face covering, physical distancing, hand washing, and monitoring your own symptoms.

Most of all, we thank you for your patience and dedication to the university as we navigate many complex issues in a changing landscape. Be well and stay safe.


Sunil Kumar
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Alanna Shanahan
Vice Provost for Student Affairs