April 6, 2021
President Christina H. Paxson
Tags Undergraduates Grad and Medical Students Faculty and Staff

To the Brown Community: Plans for a more traditional Fall 2021


Dear Brown Community Members,

As we move into the final weeks of the spring semester and prepare for the summer term of this year’s three-semester model, I write to share plans for the 2021-22 academic year. Our plans, which prioritize the health and safety of students, staff, faculty and our surrounding community, continue to be shaped by expert public health guidance.

This year has been difficult for so many members of our community as the months of this pandemic have stretched on, and I know we all look forward to a greater return to normal. Although aspects of our lives will continue to be influenced by public health considerations for quite some time, I am looking toward next year with a sense of optimism.

Brown is planning to return to the traditional two-semester academic calendar and mostly in-person operations beginning in Fall 2021, including normal residential, co-curricular and athletic experiences for our students. We have every reason to expect that Fall 2021 at Brown will look and feel much more like Fall 2019 than Fall 2020. This planning is based on the increasing pace of vaccinations against COVID-19 and the expectation that the vast majority of the Brown community will be vaccinated by the end of the summer.

Starting in the Fall 2021 semester, Brown will require COVID-19 vaccines for all undergraduate, graduate and medical students who will be on campus or engage in any level of in-person instruction. Medical and religious exemptions from vaccination will be granted to students, and reasonable accommodations will be provided (as determined by applicable law). Undergraduate and graduate students who are not vaccinated and do not qualify for a medical or religious exemption will not be permitted to access campus and will need to either petition to study remotely — as described later in this letter — or take a leave of absence. Medical students who are not vaccinated will receive information specific to the circumstances of medical education from the Warren Alpert Medical School administration.

Further information regarding the implementation of these vaccination requirements, including the process for providing vaccination documentation and requesting exemptions, will be provided to students over the summer by University Health Services. Students and their families should consult their local resources for availability and procedures for getting vaccinated.

Brown’s COVID-19 Vaccine Working Group continues to assess whether vaccination against COVID-19 should be mandatory for employees. The group will provide me with a recommendation by June 1, and policies and protocols will be based on the best scientific evidence. Similar to the policy for students, if Brown decides to make the vaccine mandatory for employees, medical and religious exemptions will be granted and reasonable accommodations will be provided under applicable law.

The University strongly encourages all members of the community who can be vaccinated to get the vaccine when they are eligible. Our plans to loosen current limitations on in-person activities for Fall 2021 are based on achieving a high level of immunity among students and employees.

We envision a fall that looks much like our pre-pandemic operations, including:

  • A two-semester academic calendar
  • Inviting all graduate, undergraduate and medical students to enroll in-person
  • Standard course enrollments and class sizes
  • Standard room occupancy for student residences
  • On-campus student residency requirements restored
  • Expanded dining and recreation options
  • Standard lab and research operations
  • Increased in-person administrative operations

Even as we plan for a more traditional campus experience, flexibility remains essential. Our plans will continue to be shaped by public health guidance and the prevailing science about the effectiveness of vaccinations. Because of ongoing uncertainty about the trajectory of the coronavirus, there are some decisions we will have to defer until later in the summer. We do not yet know, for example, whether and under what circumstances mask-wearing might be required on campus in the fall, or the method and frequency of asymptomatic testing for COVID-19.

Our decisions will be directed at all times by the latest available data and expertise from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rhode Island Department of Health and our own health and medical experts. We will make changes to our plans, as necessary, in accordance with developments in the science and guidance from these expert sources.

Adjustments to “normal” operations

Although we are planning for a return to “normal,” we expect that our approach to teaching, research, residential life and campus operations will benefit from the many lessons we have learned this year.

One of those lessons is that many courses can be improved by the incorporation of online technology. Provost Richard M. Locke has asked faculty to consider which courses can be effective in an online or hybrid format and which are ideally offered in-person to support student learning. Faculty also have been asked to provide insights on support that would be helpful in enhancing instructors’ experiences with teaching online and hybrid courses.

A key advantage of maintaining a portion of the curriculum in hybrid or fully online form is that students who cannot return to campus this fall — because of health concerns, travel restrictions or other hardships — will be able to study from remote locations. There will be an exemption process for students who have exceptional circumstances that prevent their return to Providence and who have a compelling academic reason to be enrolled to study remotely from their permanent residence. Although not all courses will be available remotely, we anticipate that the majority of students who study remotely will be able to make educational progress.

For staff, the steering committee formed to consider return-to-campus operations continues to examine the future of hybrid/remote work. I have asked the committee to make its recommendations by June 1. As we shared with staff earlier this month, we hope that widespread COVID-19 vaccination and sustained low levels of transmission of the virus will allow remote employees to work on-site by mid-August, in time for the start of the fall semester. However, it’s too early to set a specific date. This will be determined by public health guidance.

It’s important to note that, while we expect that many in-person activities will return next academic year, we will continue to assess policies for domestic and international travel, events, and visitors as we move closer to the fall semester. If we are able to achieve acceptable levels of community immunity, we envision increased local travel and engagement in Providence.

Vigilance during the spring and summer of 2021

We know that there continues to be tremendous uncertainty across the globe about the pandemic, particularly regarding new variants of the coronavirus. Rates of infection remain high in many parts of the country and the world. The success Brown has experienced thus far in maintaining the safety and well-being of our community is due in large part to the ongoing vigilance and extraordinary commitment of students, faculty and staff.

This vigilance and commitment must continue. The COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy will be in effect through the summer semester. Although we will continue to loosen activity restrictions as it is safe to do so, we expect that mask-wearing, social distancing and COVID-19 testing for those who are studying or working in-person will continue through the summer, and undergraduate classes of more than 19 students will continue to be conducted remotely.

I want to thank the offices and student organizations across campus that continue to offer creative opportunities for students, staff and faculty to be in community with each other, and I look forward to seeing more events and activities over the summer.


As has been the case throughout this pandemic, Brown’s planning is based on current public health circumstances, which continue to shift. There is still significant uncertainty about how the COVID-19 pandemic will evolve across regions of the country and the world in the coming months. Please understand the need for flexibility, as we may need to make changes to the plans outlined in this letter.

Our top priority is safeguarding the health and well-being of our community while continuing to deliver an exceptional educational experience and supporting research and scholarship. Thank you for all you continue to do so that we may all be together again as a community in the new academic year.


Christina H. Paxson