Back to Campus Initiative

May 20, 2020

To the George Washington University Community:

As with many of our activities this spring, the last few weeks felt very differently than in years past. We hope you were still able to enjoy some well-deserved celebrations, whether it was Commencement or simply the relief of finishing the semester.

In the university’s last update to you on fall planning, on May 4, we shared with you that GW will be open this fall and operating to the fullest extent that is safely possible, with the goal of in-person instruction and a residential academic experience. This is still our goal, and our staff and faculty have been working tirelessly to prepare for our planned August 31 fall start while also developing contingency plans for all possibilities.

These planning efforts, collectively our Back to Campus Initiative, are a massive undertaking, and they are being guided foremost by our priorities of safety and care. The planning efforts are thorough, examining the detailed modifications necessary to our on-campus lives in the context of our new COVID-19 reality. They are inclusive, considering the needs of all of our students, faculty, and staff. And they are comprehensive, accounting for the many unknowns through multiple scenarios. While our primary scenario remains an on-campus fall, we are also planning for an online fall and a hybrid fall, which would include a mixture of online and in-person learning.

Given the preparations necessary for these contingencies, academic and administrative leaders with functional responsibility and faculty and staff with relevant expertise are coordinating on an unprecedented level to identify all of the issues and needs we must consider and address before we can safely bring our community back to campus.  All of these efforts are informed by the expertise of our medical and public health faculty, led by Vice President for Health Affairs, Dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Chief Executive Officer of the GW Medical Faculty Associates (MFA) Barbara Bass as well as Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health Lynn Goldman, and by our Division for Student Affairs, led by Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Cissy Petty. They are coordinating closely with colleagues in the Office of the Provost; Division of Safety and Security; Human Resource Management and Development; External Relations; and Finance and Operations, with project management support from Continuous Improvement and Business Advisory Services. 

Fundamental to these efforts is how we will ensure the health and safety of our community as we return to campus. Dean Goldman has assembled a group of public health faculty that is evaluating options for ongoing testing of students, faculty, and staff, as well as contact tracing for those who test positive for COVID-19, to closely monitor and contain the spread of the virus. We are fortunate to have significant faculty expertise in infectious disease and epidemiology, and members of our public health faculty have already been working closely with our medical enterprise on testing for medical professionals at GW Hospital and the MFA and with local health departments on contact tracing. In coordination with Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Scott Burnotes, they will begin a pilot testing and tracing program this summer in anticipation of scaling up in phases as members of our community return to campus.

Equally important are determining how we will return safely to in-person instruction and a high-quality on-campus residential experience for our students, as well as reopen our labs, offices, and on-campus services. These efforts are being coordinated across two primary dimensions: academic planning and operations. Below we highlight the key leads and focus areas for these efforts:

Academic Planning  
Charge: Prepare the university’s academic and research enterprises for a return to in-person operations for the fall semester and propose plans for necessary adjustments to instruction, research, and student support based on stakeholder outreach to faculty and students. Additionally, prepare for contingencies in the academic enterprise should it not be safe to return, in part or in full, to on-campus operations in the fall.

Lead: Terry Murphy, Deputy Provost for Academic Affairs

Focus Areas:

  • Academic Instruction
    Leads: Dr. Murphy and Geneva Henry, Dean of Libraries and Academic Innovation
  • Enrollment, Retention, and Student Success
    Leads: Dr. Blake and Ed Gillis, Interim Vice Provost for Enrollment Management
  • Research
    Leads: Bob Miller, Vice President for Research, and Gina Lohr, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research
  • Faculty
    Lead: Chris Bracey, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs

Charge: Prepare campus operations for a return to in-person instruction and a residential academic experience for the fall semester, focusing specifically on health and well-being, support services, campus events and activities, and campus spaces. Additionally, prepare for contingencies in operations should it not be safe to return, in part or in full, to on-campus operations in the fall.

Lead: Scott Burnotes, Associate Vice President for Safety and Security

Functional Areas:

  • Community Health and Well-being
    Leads: Gene Migliaccio, Associate Dean for Applied Public Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health; Karen Drenkard, Associate Dean, Clinical Practice and Community Engagement, School of Nursing; Caroline Laguerre-Brown, Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement
  • Support Services
    Leads: Greg Rheault, Assistant Dean of Students, and Jonathan Fozard, Associate Vice President for the Office of the Chief Information Officer
  • Campus Events and Activities
    Leads: Colette Coleman, Senior Associate Dean of Students, and Ben Toll, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions
  • Campus Spaces
    Leads: Seth Weinshel, Assistant Dean of Housing and Financial Services, and John Square, Associate Athletics Director for Internal Operations

Feedback from these efforts will ensure that our approach is thoughtful, intentional, and comprehensive. In all of our planning, we and other members of leadership are continuing to consult frequently with faculty, including through the Faculty Senate and its committees.

As we plan, we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to find a “new normal” for our campuses this fall—but as we have said previously, we must be nimble and responsive to the evolving realities of the pandemic. We will make our decisions on fall operations with the best available data and public health expertise, and in alignment with local, regional, and federal guidance. Above all, we will make decisions that support your safety and care.

We have much to accomplish in the weeks to come, and you will receive more information soon about how to provide feedback on our planning.

We will send another update on fall planning in mid- to late-June. In the meantime, we hope you are finding some time for yourself and looking forward to summer. Stay safe, and stay well.


M. Brian Blake
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

Mark Diaz
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer