Current plans for the spring semester

November 02, 2020

To the members of the MIT community:

I write to share an update on our approach to the spring semester. Although this news reflects many changes that will only affect undergraduates, I hope everyone will take a moment to read it through both because decisions that shape student life and learning have ripple effects for the rest of us, and because the same Covid-era criteria that led us to this plan will naturally guide upcoming decisions about remote or onsite work for researchers and staff. Expect a letter on that subject this month.

How we got here and what we’ve learned

As President Reif outlined in July, our plan for the fall was careful and measured. So we could test our approach and adjust it as we learned, we extended invitations to return to campus only to graduate students, rising seniors, and students facing certain hardships, plus some members of our research enterprise. If all went well under that plan, we aimed to bring back first-years, sophomores, and juniors in the spring, so that every undergraduate class would have the opportunity to be on campus for at least one semester this academic year.

In assessing whether we can now proceed with the spring plan we initially envisioned, we returned to the guiding principles that informed our July decisions:

  • Protect the public health of our entire community by reducing the number of people on campus
  • Preserve our ability to deliver on MIT’s mission of teaching and research
  • Enable all students to stay on track to their degrees
  • Remain dynamic and flexible in our approach, recognizing that the pandemic’s course may require MIT to change direction (and plans)

We have now re-examined the community’s extensive due diligence that informed President Reif’s July announcement. We evaluated Covid-19’s worsening local and national trajectory as well as projections for its path this coming winter and spring. And we looked to the lessons we’ve learned so far this fall about managing life on campus.

Nearly two months into the semester, we have been able to contain the spread of the virus by making careful choices about access to campus and implementing rigorous testing, tracing, isolation, and compliance systems. And nothing has been more important than the sustained effort by students to live by the social compact of the Covid era, embodied in our student life policies. This compact – which we all need to continue to abide by now more than ever given the concerning uptick in cases across Massachusetts, the country, and the world – requires us to take responsibility for our own health, and for each other’s.

What we’ve decided about the spring

Building on this experience, we are ready to advance our plan for the spring – overall, much like the fall but involving a different undergraduate cohort. And, just as we did with our preparations for the fall, we are approaching the spring mindful of the fact that the pandemic’s persistent grip could force us to pivot at a moment’s notice.

Specifically, as we hoped for the upcoming term, all current first-years, sophomores, and juniors who would like to live and learn on campus will be able to do so. In order to access campus facilities, they will need to reside on campus. Seniors facing circumstances related to their safety, living conditions, visa status, or other hardship will be able to apply to remain in, or return to, campus housing through the Student Housing Assistance Review Process (SHARP).

We will make a decision by the end of the semester about whether seniors who choose to live nearby can have access to campus facilities in the same way that graduate students who live off campus do now. We will be able to make a more informed determination after we learn more about our ability to manage the health of our community during cold weather, with Covid-19 prevalence on the rise and flu season beginning, and after we see how many first-years, sophomores, and juniors will access campus in the spring.

Other key details of our current spring 2021 framework:

  • Research operations will continue as they are now, as will graduate student education, which will follow the modified spring semester calendar described below.
  • Just as in the fall, many of our subjects will be taught exclusively online, with some opportunities for undergraduates living on campus and some graduate students to have in-person instruction. A preliminary list of subjects, including those with in-person components, will be available on the Registrar’s website later this week. Departments will continue to make arrangements to ensure all students are able to stay on track with their degree progress.
  • Because cold weather makes it harder to socialize outdoors and because the to-and-fro of spring break travel presents an obvious risk of viral spread, the spring semester will start two weeks later for all students; instruction will be entirely online for the first two weeks to accommodate a one-week quarantine period for all on-campus students; and we will replace spring break with several long weekends distributed throughout the semester.
  • IAP 2021 will be all virtual and begin on Monday, January 4, 2021 and end on Friday, January 29, 2021.
  • We will continue to follow key residential life policies to reduce the possibility of infection and transmission while enabling safe, meaningful social connections:
    • The undergraduate pod program and the graduate residential visitors policy will be available to students in the spring.
    • Undergraduate students residing on campus will be required to be on a meal plan, which MIT will continue to subsidize.
    • The FSILGs will continue to be closed to undergraduate students this spring. Feedback from students and alumni was vital to making an informed decision about our spring plan for these communities. We will maintain our financial support for house operations and work with alumni and student leaders to develop a plan to safely reopen all houses in fall 2021.
    • There will be no competitive winter season athletics (a final determination about spring sports will be made in the coming weeks).
  • Restrictions on visiting student and scholar appointments will continue into the spring term as will our current travel guidelines for the MIT community.

It’s important for all students considering returning to campus for the spring (or in the case of first-year undergraduates, coming to campus for the first time) to know what life at MIT will be like. The Covid-19 policies and procedures in effect this fall will largely stay in place but we will work with our entire community to make sure we stay connected and create opportunities to safely socialize.

To help you make informed decisions about the spring, please consult this FAQ. As our planning for the new term progresses, we will update this resource and share others with you.

Resolving to face an uncertain future together

I’d like to close by speaking first to our students, and then to our whole community.

To the roughly 5,100 undergraduate and graduate students regularly accessing MIT’s campus this semester: You should take tremendous pride in all we have accomplished together while facing down the everyday uncertainties, frustrations, fears, and heartaches of life in a pandemic. Your leadership has been essential to the success of the semester so far and contributes to our belief that we can safely extend our unique mind, hand, and heart educational opportunities to a larger cohort of students in the spring.

And, finally, to every member of our community: For your amazing efforts, individually and together, all of us in the central administration, starting with President Reif, are incredibly grateful. I have no doubt that by relying on our collective resolve, turning to one another, and finding new ways to hope and work for a brighter future, we will see our way through to the other side of this crisis.


Cynthia Barnhart