Fall Planning Update

June 02, 2020

To the George Washington University Community:

In recent weeks, the Back to Campus Initiative has brought together many in our GW community who are working with our faculty, staff, and students on an unprecedented level across the entire institution. I want to thank our faculty in particular, as they have continued to bring tremendous creativity and flexibility to these efforts. We are making progress toward our goal of returning to on-campus instruction and a residential academic experience this fall, and we are entering June with great forward momentum in our planning.

In moving expeditiously on our operations and academic planning efforts, it is clear that much is dependent on our anticipated fall calendar and modes of instruction. There is also, understandably, a degree of urgency to make decisions on these fronts to allow time for our community, and specifically our faculty, to prepare for classes—especially because we plan to use the changes coming this fall as an opportunity to enhance the GW learning experience for our students.

As we shared in the spring, we plan to begin in-person instruction for most students on Aug. 31. Assuming this remains so, we have now determined that after Thanksgiving break, classes for most students will move to remote instruction until the end of the semester.

This decision was made based on the best available science and guided by our safety, public health, and medical experts, as well as through broad collaboration with academic leadership, faculty representatives, students, and staff to account for the diverse needs of our community. Most importantly, this approach will help prevent any potential spread of COVID-19 that could have been caused by large numbers of our community members traveling for the holiday and then returning to campus.

While we are still working to provide more information on the implications of this adjusted schedule, some of the most important details we have now include:

  • Remote instruction following Thanksgiving will last two weeks.
  • Provost Blake is encouraging faculty to use the post-Thanksgiving period as a unique opportunity to conclude the semester with an innovative online experience for students while allowing major exams assessing coursework to take place preceding Thanksgiving break in response to student feedback about exam environment.
  • Classes will be held on Labor Day and Fall Break will be canceled to allow for additional in-person instruction time, which will also promote safety in reducing movement to and from our campuses during another common time for travel.
  • Alternative schedules that meet professional accreditation requirements will be in place for the School of Nursing, College of Professional Studies, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and GW Law. These students will receive more information from their schools soon.

Updated course design is already well underway. Aided by the expertise of a robust team from GW Libraries and Academic Innovation (LAI), our faculty is imagining a semester of new opportunities to elevate the GW classroom experience. We are preparing for all classes to incorporate the flexibility necessary for students to be in person or online for various amounts of time this fall while still making uninterrupted progress toward their credits and degrees.

In the coming days, Provost Blake will share additional guidance with faculty members, including resources, such as LAI’s FLEX Camps, for faculty adjusting syllabi or preparing for online learning with best-in-class instructional methods and technology. For those who cannot teach on campus, we will provide a process to request accommodation.

For our residential students, we also will provide more information soon on a process for requesting to remain on campus through the end of the semester.  

While we are cautiously optimistic about our ability to implement these adjustments to the fall calendar, please know that as always this decision is subject to change based on the evolution of the pandemic; the recommendations of our experts and D.C., regional, and federal requirements and guidance; and any additional steps we believe are necessary to support the health, safety, and care of the university community.

Other planning underway

Although this is an important step forward for our fall planning efforts, it is far from the only decision before us in order to return to campus. As we noted recently, fall planning is a massive undertaking, and it is ongoing across many areas.

Chief among our priorities is establishing the proper protocols for testing, contact tracing, and quarantining, as well as determining guidelines for masks, sanitizing, and social distancing. Given the nature of this pandemic, we do expect that there will be confirmed COVID-19 cases in our community this fall, and our medical and public health faculty and leadership are preparing comprehensive plans to manage our response. We also are establishing safety criteria that will guide our decisions, once we are back on campus, through scenarios with varying degrees of severity of the virus’s spread.

Above all, we remain focused on the health and safety of all members of our community, especially those who are more vulnerable to complications from the virus. Our operations teams have documented hundreds of action items that they are now prioritizing to prepare campus for our new COVID-19 reality and to safely welcome our community back.  This has included walk-throughs of campus spaces to begin to visualize and plan for how we will implement social distancing in spaces throughout the university.

I understand that many of your questions may still be unanswered, but we felt it important to provide the information we have at this time, knowing many are anxiously awaiting any news on the fall. I want to thank those of you who have spent time offering some very helpful feedback on fall planning—please, keep it coming.

We will continue to update you regularly, and we hope to have more comprehensive fall plans later this month. Stay safe, stay well, and Raise High!


Thomas J. LeBlanc