Update on Fall Planning and Returning to Campus

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke College community,

Our planning for fall semester is well underway and we have already shared our plans for delivering our world-class curriculum next academic year. We cannot emphasize enough the complexity of completely transforming the delivery of our curriculum and campus operations in the midst of a pandemic that has not only disrupted the campus but also the personal lives of our students, faculty and staff alike. We are deeply indebted to the entire community for its persistence, creativity, tireless efforts, patience and grace. 

The shift to semester-long instruction with two modules each semester ensures that every student will be able to access the curriculum synchronously, whether or not they are able to attend classes in person. This shift has required significant effort by our faculty and staff in academic affairs, LITS and other partners across campus. We are deeply grateful to everyone involved.

With the curricular framework set, the myriad tasks related to actualizing it are now underway, alongside a host of planning activities related to the fall semester. While some decisions are not in our control and much still remains to be determined, we remain on target for sharing full details in early July, as promised. And, we have made a few key decisions that we wish to communicate now. 

Fall Academic Calendar 

At this time, the College is planning to begin undergraduate classes on August 24, 2020. We will break on November 25, during which time residential students will depart campus for the rest of the year. The remainder of the semester will be delivered remotely, with exams ending December 14, 2020. Students are advised not to make travel plans to return to campus, however, until the full fall academic calendar is determined and shared in early July. Decisions regarding the calendar for the spring semester remain under consideration.

PaGE programs typically operate on a different schedule, available here (at bottom).

We understood early on that, regardless of whether or not campus opens, there will be a number of students who will learn from a distance and, depending on specific circumstances, faculty who may be teaching entirely in remote format. The Academic Planning Group, therefore, put forward a model of flexible immersive teaching, or FIT. This means that the education that Mount Holyoke is offering will be fully accessible and inclusive for all of our students, whether they are on campus or remote, reflecting our shared commitment to supporting every student’s academic progress, and ensuring the health and safety of our faculty and staff. Later this week, students will receive emails from the Office of the Dean of Studies detailing upcoming academic advising and registration timelines and procedures.

Fall Student Housing and Classrooms

With health and safety top of mind, we do not expect to fill campus housing to full capacity in the coming semester. A less dense campus is necessary to meet state and federal guidelines for physical distancing and to ensure that self-quarantine and other protocols can be met.

We know students are anxious for more details about eligibility for on-campus housing. We are working through the details now and will share more in early July. While we expect to offer a fun and engaging residential experience, we want to be up front about the fact that it will be  necessarily different from the usual on-campus experience. Protocols for personal protective equipment, testing, contact tracing and distancing will require everyone on campus to exercise personal responsibility and will mean that many aspects of campus life will be modified.

The detailed work of determining the impact of distancing requirements on classroom occupancy is underway. Given health and safety concerns and the requirements for physical distancing, many of our courses will only be offered in remote format. Our faculty in disciplines that typically center around lab or performance experiences are working to provide creative and engaging remote alternatives for those important learning experiences.

Fall Athletics

We are working closely with our NCAA/NEWMAC conference partners to reach a decision regarding plans for fall competitive sports. As soon as those conversations conclude, we will be able to make our own campus plans. 

Employee Return to Campus

Recently, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began a phased reopening of the state economy while minimizing the health impacts of COVID-19. It is currently in Phase 2. . 

Following guidance from the commonwealth and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mount Holyoke College is also beginning to slowly repopulate the campus in preparation for the fall, while being mindful of individuals’ personal circumstances and health. 

For most employees, remote working is still in effect. Some personnel began returning to campus this week, including:

  • Faculty who have laboratory research that cannot be conducted remotely.
  • Personnel who have a critical role in current College operations that can’t easily be accomplished remotely — mostly staff in Facilities Management and LITS

Employees returning to campus have been notified of health and safety protocols and have been provided pre-return guidelines, including mandatory COVID-19 awareness training. They are required to wear cloth face coverings and to conduct a self-check every day before reporting to work. 

The College also requires physical distancing for those staff who are returning to campus

Decision-making and Communication

A great many people representing every aspect of Mount Holyoke College life have been working to ensure a safe and gradual return to campus life while protecting the health of our students, faculty and staff. Seventeen Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) are in place, with membership consisting of faculty, staff and students. The ERTs are the subject matter experts charged with evaluating up-to-date information and making recommendations to the Cabinet and senior leadership team. The full list of ERTs with associated team leads and responsibilities is available.

Our weekly updates to the community will continue. Some detailed information is delivered to students and employees via curated emails and newsletters and we ask that you continue to check your email regularly over the summer. Please also continue to review the College’s COVID-19 page for updates, and students should also access the student portal in my.mtholyoke.edu for certain student-specific notifications. We know it is difficult to try to plan when so much remains uncertain. Please know that we have shared and will continue to share as much information as we can, and as soon as we can.

Thank you for your continued patience as we address the complexities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Amber Douglas
Associate Professor of Psychology and Education
Dean of Studies
Director of Student Success Initiatives

Shannon Gurek
Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer

Marcella Runell Hall
Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students