Update on our Fall 2020 Planning

June 9, 2020

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

As we begin our summer period, I wish to provide an overview of how we are preparing for the coming academic year, the practical assumptions that are guiding our decision-making, and what will be important for us to return to our campuses this Fall.  Since the very beginning of the pandemic, our community has come together in extraordinary ways, and I wish to again thank you for how you have enabled our University to respond, as we confront the challenges and the uncertainty of this moment.

We face complex and challenging decisions that require the most careful planning and preparation.  We are focused on the ways that we can protect the health and safety of each member of our community and pursue our academic mission during a time of serious risk and uncertainty.  We are animated by moral commitments that have shaped our community since our founding—including cura personalis, a deep sense of care for each person—and our commitment to the three foundational aspects of our mission—the formation of our students; the inquiry of our faculty; and our service to the common good.

This has been a time of great difficulty.  Many of us are experiencing deep grief and pain for the people we have lost and the ways that our lives have been impacted as a result of this global pandemic.  We realize, with particular pain, the disproportionate experience of the worst impacts of COVID-19 on essential workers—in healthcare, in roles that support our daily lives—and in African American communities and communities of color.  We recognize the imperative we have, moving forward, of strengthening our vision of a community deeply invested in the care of each person.  Doing so requires us to direct our energy not only to our response to COVID-19, but also to issues of equity and justice, and to issues of racism, violence and police brutality that we must now face with renewed urgency.  As I shared in my letter to our community on May 31, this is a moment that demands our personal, civic, and institutional engagement.

Planning for Fall

As we approach the Fall, our planning is focused on how we can provide for the safe return of the members of our community and how we can work to sustain their safety over the course of their time at Georgetown—in our residence halls, classrooms, and gathering places across our campuses, given the risks posed by COVID-19.

Over the past several weeks, we have convened groups of colleagues to support planning efforts in key areas, including public health, academic options, operations, and finance.  On our faculty, we have some of the world’s leading experts in public health and these colleagues have helped us understand the range of actions and conditions that will enable us to safely return to our campuses.  Our academic leaders have worked to develop hybrid and flexible approaches to sustaining our educational mission as the conditions of the pandemic change. And our operations and finance colleagues are developing frameworks to support and sustain a return to campus.

ReOpen DC

It is important to understand that we are developing our plans within the framework provided by ReOpen DC—the plan for the District of Columbia.  Returning to our campuses will require the approval of city authorities.  The ReOpen DC plan was released on May 21, and it outlines a four-stage approach for the city’s reopening, including the reopening of colleges and universities.

On May 29, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the District would move into Phase One of its plan, which lifts the “stay-at-home order” that she imposed on March 30 and provides for the resumption of “certain activities—where the risk of transmission has been determined to be low and when strong safeguards are in place….”  Phase One continues to require social distancing of at least six feet from persons not in one’s household, wearing a mask or face covering, and the prohibition of gatherings of more than ten individuals.  Colleges and universities in the District of Columbia are not permitted to resume on-campus activities under Phase One.

ReOpen DC stipulates that colleges and universities will be able to resume on-campus activities once two conditions are met: first, the city moves into Phase Two, and second, the city approves each college and university’s plan for returning to campus. Over the past few weeks, our colleagues here at Georgetown have been deeply engaged in the development of these plans.

Practical Assumptions

In developing our plans, we are guided by a set of assumptions that inform our work:

Health and Safety:  Our first priority is to the health and safety of our community—students, faculty, and staff.  We will be guided by the data, evidence, and expertise of our scientific and public health communities.

Academic Mission: It is in the interest of our academic mission to welcome as many students as is safely possible to in-person instruction in the Fall.

Timing of Medical Advances: We do not see significant advances in a safe and effective vaccine becoming widely available by the end of 2020.

Layered Public Health Framework: We will be able to implement a layered public health framework. Elements of a layered framework include regular self-screening for symptoms; temperature checks; social distancing; face coverings; readily available testing and contact tracing; isolation of those contracting the disease; quarantine for those with significant contact with those with the disease; deep cleaning of public spaces; and reducing crowd sizes.  While no framework can eliminate all risk, such a layered approach is integral to our efforts to work to mitigate risk.  We will identify the policies and processes that enable this commitment.

Adherence: Effective health and safety measures depend on the active participation by members of our community.

Hybrid-Flexible Academic Models: We will be prepared to conduct hybrid and flexible models of learning that span a continuum from on-campus to fully-virtual, determined by relevant factors, including our ability to meet our public health responsibilities and the needs of our community.  We are preparing for multiple options depending upon the changing state of pandemic conditions in the District of Columbia and on our ability to fulfill our obligations for public health on the Georgetown campuses.

Varying Impact: The implications of COVID-19 result in impacts that vary in severity across different members of our community.  We will exert special effort to anticipate and address these variations.

Differentiation of Academic Programs: We will be adaptive to the differences across our academic programs.  The needs of Law, Medical, and Graduate education can differ from those of undergraduate and residential students.

Financial Capacity: We will have the financial resources to prepare for and support the 2020-2021 academic year.  Given the demands of putting in place the public health framework in support of the health and safety of our community, and strengthening the virtual learning environment, we do not yet know the full extent of the costs for this coming year.

Infrastructure: We will be able to adapt and expand the infrastructure of our campuses—including classrooms, laboratories, residence halls, dining halls—to address the new needs for public health.

Second Surge of Infection: We will have the capability of responding to the possibility of another surge of infection during the course of 2020-2021, in the event we experience such a threat to the health and safety of our community.

Emerging Scenarios for the Fall

These assumptions have guided our planning work and are shaping a range of scenarios that will provide us with the best opportunities to return to our campuses this Fall, should conditions allow.  We will continue to work closely with the District of Columbia Departments of Health and Planning to ensure that the plans we develop are in accordance with the framework of ReOpen DC.

Recognizing that the need to manage density will make it impossible to return to normal this Fall, we are exploring approaches ranging from fully-virtual to approaches that balance virtual learning with on-campus presence—understanding that the needs across our campuses require differentiated approaches.  The needs for managing the public health of a residential undergraduate community are different than those for our graduate students, as well as for our professional students at our Law Center, Medical Center, and School of Continuing Studies.  For example, the steps to support our research laboratories will be different from those for our libraries.

Robert Groves, our Provost, is coordinating the preparations regarding the modality of the undergraduate and graduate programs with the deans of the Main Campus; William Treanor, our Executive Vice President and Dean, is developing the elements of our J.D., S.J.D., and LL.M. programs at the Law Center; Edward Healton, our Executive Vice President and Executive Dean, is overseeing our planning for the return of our research community to the laboratories, the resumption of clinical training for our 3rd and 4th year Medical students and our range of Nursing programs, as well as our 1st and 2nd year Preclinical Medical education and our programs in Biomedical Graduate Education.

We are also developing approaches to bringing our employees back to campus.  Over the last few months, we have learned a great deal about how to operate effectively in an environment where a majority of our colleagues are working remotely.  As we develop approaches for a return to campus, we will assess which members of our workforce will need to prepare to return to campus, and which members can continue to work remotely as we navigate the circumstances of the pandemic.

Given our first priority is the health and safety of our community, and how much we are still learning about the virus, we will work closely with the members of our student body, faculty and staff to consider and address particular challenges they anticipate with a return to campus.

Beginning in the next few days, we will issue a series of communications on our planning for each of our campuses.  We will provide clear and regular communications as we reach greater clarity about the upcoming academic year, and specifically about the range of fully-virtual to hybrid-flexible approaches that will guide each campus.  The most challenging set of issues, given the density of our residential campus, are those involving our undergraduates.  It is our intent to provide a full scope of our plans over the course of the coming weeks.

I am deeply grateful to all of our colleagues whose work is ensuring we can be prepared for this Fall.

I wish each of you the very best as we navigate this moment together, supported by one another and the enduring values that bind us as a community.  You have my deepest appreciation.


John J. DeGioia