Harvard University to Bring Up to 40 Percent of Students Back to Campus, Athletics Uncertain

Harvard's Dean Farris practices during a swim meet between Columbia and Harvard Universities at Harvard College on Friday November 16, 2018. Photo by Joseph Prezioso
Harvard's Dean Farris practices during a swim meet between Columbia and Harvard Universities at Harvard College on Friday November 16, 2018. Photo Courtesy: Joseph Prezioso

Harvard University announced on Monday that it will only bring up to 40% of students to campus this fall, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. First-year students will be allowed to learn on campus “to adjust to college academics and to begin creating connections with faculty and other classmates,” according to Harvard’s release.

Students on campus will move out before Thanksgiving and complete the semester from home.

“We have sought a path to bringing all students back as soon as conditions allow, while continuing their academic progress in the meantime and remaining a vibrant research community across our broad range of disciplines,” Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, along with two deans, Claudine Gay and Rakesh Khurana wrote in a message to the community. “But we also recognize that, fundamentally, there is an intrinsic incompatibility between our highly interactive, residential Harvard College experience and the social distancing needed to mitigate COVID-19 transmission.”

Should only one group of students be allowed to return to campus in the spring, priority will be given to seniors.

“Harvard was built for connection, not isolation. Without a vaccine or effective clinical treatments for the virus, we know that no choice that reopens the campus is without risk,” the president and deans wrote. “That said, we have worked closely with leading epidemiologists and medical experts to define an approach that we believe will protect the health and safety of our community, while also protecting our academic enterprise and providing students with the conditions they need to be successful academically.

“The recent upturn in COVID-19 cases in certain states illustrates the difficulty of making predictions, even well-informed ones, about the evolution of this virus. Given this uncertainty, we determined that our fall plan must enable us to bring back as many students as possible while providing sufficient margin to accommodate an escalation of the prevalence of COVID-19 in our area. Anything less and we could find ourselves again facing the prospect of asking our students to leave, on short notice, prior to the end of the semester,” the Harvard University leaders wrote.

A decision regarding the safety of athletics has not been made as of yet. Harvard Athletics released this statement:

“Harvard’s decision to bring up to 40 percent of students to campus this fall has implications for our Athletics program. We anticipate that the Ivy League will issue a decision on July 8 about fall sports competitions and training. Even in the absence of this guidance, we acknowledge that our medium density plan will necessarily place limits on what athletic activities are possible at Harvard this fall.”

The Ivy League made a huge decision last spring when the schools collectively decided to cancel all athletic events when the coronavirus was still in its early stages in the United States, effectively not allowing any of the swimming & diving student athletes to compete at the NCAA championships, which were ultimately cancelled. With Harvard University making a decision to only bring up to 40% of its students back to campus, that could be the model that other major Division I universities follow when making a decision regarding campus learning in the fall. Division III Williams College in Massachusetts, just 130 miles west of Harvard, cancelled all fall sports for this upcoming semester.

Harvard men’s swimming and diving was returning a strong team capable of a high finish at the NCAA Championships, as American record holder Dean Farris confirmed he would be returning to school after serving an Olympic redshirt this season.

The Crimson will also be returning all four of its NCAA qualifiers: Will GrantUmitcan GuresJake Johnson and Michael Zarian, as well as 2019 qualifier Raphael Marcoux.

The Harvard women qualified three women to the championships in 2020 and will be returning Felicia Pasadyn and Jaycee Yegher.


  1. Chaney Harkins

    This seems to be the leading trend right now. But what sucks is the juniors don’t get a spring sport this way. I guess they can’t cater to everyone so this is the best of worse case scenario. This back and forth and unknown is taking a toll on my mental and physical health?