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Stanford to alter academic calendar, offer mix of online and in-person instruction next year

A bicyclist rides on the campus of Stanford University
Stanford University announced its plans for reopening in the fall, saying it plans to start earlier, add an extra quarter and allow only a portion of undergrads on campus each quarter.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Stanford became the latest major university to announce its plans for returning students and faculty to campus, saying Wednesday that it plans to start its fall term earlier, incorporate the summer quarter into the regular academic calendar and allow only half of undergraduates back to campus each quarter as it attempts to resume in-person instruction while maintaining safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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,” President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell said in a message to the campus community. “Shutting down mid-quarter and sending students home would not be a desirable outcome for anyone.”

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell said that planning is not yet complete and that some important decisions remain to be made. Still, the information is likely to quell anxiety among thousands of students who have been facing uncertainty in the fall, and it could provide some economic security to the university as the coronavirus outbreak takes a drastic financial toll on higher education.

Stanford — in Santa Clara County, which has been a hot spot of California’s COVID-19 outbreak — is one of only a handful of big-name universities to announce their plans for the fall thus far. USC on Tuesday said it would offer a combination of online and in-person instruction, while the 23-campus California State University announced last month it was planning for primarily online classes this fall. The 10-campus University of California is expected to announce its plans this month.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking more than 860 individual colleges’ plans, found that two-thirds of them are planning to reopen in person, while only 8% are considering a hybrid model and 7% are planning for online.

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell said much of Stanford’s instruction in 2020-21 will continue to be online, calling it the “default teaching option.” But in-person classes will be offered for smaller classes and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. to make the most of classroom space.

The plan for next year also includes:

  • An early start to fall quarter, which will begin Monday, Sept. 14, and end Friday, Nov. 20, before the Thanksgiving break.
  • Only half of undergraduates to be allowed on campus each quarter, including summer 2021. The university intends to have undergraduate first-year and transfer students on campus in the fall and graduating seniors in the spring but has otherwise not planned how to divide students over the quarters.
  • Reduced density in student housing. All undergraduates on campus will be housed in rooms that have private sleeping spaces, such as a single or a two-room double, in order to provide for sufficient physical distancing.
  • Altered campus life. Gatherings will be limited. Students will probably need to wear face coverings regularly and practice physical distancing.

Graduate and professional education are expected to continue at “near-full capacity.”

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Tessier-Lavigne and Drell had a specific message for incoming freshmen: “We know this is not how you originally envisioned beginning your college career. 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.”


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