This afternoon, Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger announced reopening plans for the 2020-2021 academic year, following Barnard President Sian Beilock’s announcement earlier today. In a follow-up to the announcement, he also clarified Columbia’s stance on the recent ICE restrictions on international students.

Classes will “almost always” come with an online option this fall, the President announced, and faculty will have the freedom to decide whether they will be teaching their courses remotely, in-person, or in a hybrid form. Campus will be able to resume at 60% of its normal density of CC and SEAS students, with first- and second-year CC and SEAS students being eligible for housing in the fall and third- and fourth-year students eligible in the spring. Students will be asked to leave campus during Thanksgiving break and complete the rest of the academic term remotely. Incoming transfer students and students of the 3-2 Combined Plan Program will also be invited to campus for Fall 2020, along with students of any year with extenuating circumstances. What exactly qualifies as “special or extenuating needs” is not clarified in the President’s email, though he does state that school deans will be providing more detailed information regarding housing and residential life. 

The offer to live on campus this fall will be extended to any willing student if a population density level of 60% is not reached through the return of the aforementioned groups. This offer stands for any willing student until 60% capacity is reached. It is not immediately clear if juniors and seniors who secure off-campus housing for the fall semester will be able to attend in-person classes as well, which could have potential ramifications for international students seeking to avoid recent ICE visa restrictions.

New campus health policy will mandate face coverings unless in a private room with the door closed, physical distancing at all times across campus, and testing will be conducted upon returning to campus and periodically thereafter. A daily symptom checker will be also be required. Everyone will be required to sign a compact stating that they will adhere to these rules while on campus.

The President stressed that this plan is contingent upon approval by New York State, which has released its own guidelines for higher education and COVID-19, last updated in May. If New York City does not enter Phase 4 of the State’s reopening plan by August 15, Columbia’s reopening plan could face restructuring.



According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on July 6, ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) announced that restrictions will be placed on international students attending American universities for the upcoming fall 2020 semester. The article discusses ICE’s new guidelines: if a school plans on hosting classes entirely online, international students can take these classes abroad but not in the United States. If international students who attend this same hypothetical university with classes being entirely online are already located in the US, ICE says they either have to transfer to a school offering face-to-face instruction or leave the United States. According to Columbia University’s International Students & Scholars Office, there were 1,814 undergraduate and 9,973 graduate international students in Fall 2018, and the website says that “each year [Columbia] welcome[s] more internationals than the last.” 

In a follow-up to the email detailing the Fall 2020 reopening plan, the President addressed the ICE restrictions, which he called “a deeply misguided new decision by the US government.” Alongside a harsh condemnation of the announcement, he outlined three ways the university seeks to address the restrictions: by emphasizing hybrid classes in course offerings to “alleviate the negative effects of these new regulations”; by expanding Columbia Global Centers and introducing new Pop-Up Global Centers to increase international in-person engagement; and a renewed commitment to opposing such policies, though how this will concretely manifest remains unclear.

Under the reopening plan outlined by President Bollinger, it is not immediately clear if provisions will be made for international students seeking housing on-campus in the fall semester, regardless of their class year. Bwog has contacted both Barnard and Columbia asking for clarifications on how the housing policy for the fall will interact with these new restrictions. 



Within the rest of the Ivy League, universities are taking varied approaches to reopening come Fall 2020. While UPenn and Cornell intend on inviting everyone willing to return to campus, offering a mix of remote and in-person instruction, every other Ivy is restricting those they invite back for Fall 2020 by class year. Only Harvard has announced its intention for all classes to be conducted online; all other Ivies plan on limited in-person instruction on their main campuses. Harvard’s tuition will not change from its original price for the 2020-21 academic year; Princeton has announced a 10% discount for the year. Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, UPenn, and Cornell have not clarified how tuition will be impacted in light of the restructuring of Fall 2020.

In New York City, private universities such as NYU and Fordham currently intend to offer primarily in-person instruction, with some remote learning, and invite all undergraduates back to campus. In late June, both NYU and Fordham announced that their tuition rates for the 2020-21 academic year would increase slightly. Public schools at all levels, from the CUNY system to the NYC school district, have yet to make an official decision regarding in-person instruction come fall. Former Bwogger and current reporter for the New York Times, Eliza Shapiro, reports that NYC public schools will likely follow a hybrid model, but just how much in-person or remote instruction will occur will be a decision left largely to principals due to the massive variation in NYC public schools’ capacity to accommodate students with required social distancing measures.



As the President’s email addresses all schools operating within Columbia University, clarification on several undergraduate-specific policies, such as housing and financial aid, was not provided and has yet to be announced by undergraduate school deans. Among the most pertinent questions are how financial aid will be impacted by the restricted on-campus presence and the new three-semester system; what immersive, six-week classes will look like and how they will interact with the more traditional, twelve-week courses; what the qualifications for housing for non-first- and second-year students will be; how and if campus staples, like libraries and dining halls, will open and operate. Bwog has reached out to Columbia to address these questions, and the university also offers its own guide to questions of reopening. We will update this post when we receive a response.

Update on July 7 at 7:40 pm

Dean Valentini of Columbia College emailed this evening to follow up on President Bollinger’s earlier announcements. The Dean clarified what qualifies as “special circumstances” that may allow a student to have on-campus housing outside of their designated class’s return to campus. These circumstances include “students who lack safe and necessary conditions for learning in their home environment,” those who are involved in “advanced academic projects” and would only have access to the necessary “materials and spaces” for those projects on campus, “international students who have visa and travel concerns,” and “students with an existing accommodation with Columbia Health and/or who have discussed personal circumstances with a provider in Columbia Health.”

Dean Valentini also outlines the new campus aspects that are “very likely” to happen. These include residence halls utilizing “only single bedrooms to start,” Columbia Dining offering “take-out and pre-packaged meal options,” campus facilities like libraries and Dodge Fitness Center having “limited access,” and “in-person student events” being limited, “if they exist at all.”

The full text of Dean Valentini’s email is below.

Dear Students,

I am writing today, following President Bollinger’s message, to share College-specific updates about the next academic year. This is the first of many updates to come, as details continue to be finalized.  

We have all seen, through news and media, just how difficult it is to forecast the future of COVID-19 with any sense of certainty, as public and health officials continue to gather data and confer with medical experts to assess this still evolving virus. New information continues to be released each day, which is why our own plans have been shared in phases, in order to rely on the most current assessments of risk and safety available to us. 

In our planning, we have strived to uphold the following priorities, aligned with our institutional values:

  • Health, safety and well-being for all members of our community
  • Exceptional educational experience, contextualized through today’s unique lens
  • Community bonds, strengthened by mutual care and support
  • Recognition of each individual’s unique needs
  • Access and support that acknowledges the changing economic landscape, family circumstances and more

While we wish it were otherwise, it is clear that next year will not be normal. Until a proven vaccine is developed, Columbia must continue to maintain a de-densified campus as we have seen the significant impact that physical distancing has had on the spread of the virus. This means the on-campus student population must be limited in order to adhere to distancing guidelines that require spacing out students in residence halls, classrooms and other public spaces. In addition, we must factor in the safety of our faculty and staff, including essential campus services staff, all of whom have close day-to-day interaction with students and many of whom may fall into higher risk segments of our community.  We must also consider the safety of our neighbors in Morningside Heights and New York City at large.

With that, let me now share additional details about the upcoming year that we are able to provide at this time. 

The next academic year is structured in a three-term format, which allows schools and students to take advantage of coursework into the summer of 2021. Most students will fulfill a majority of their coursework during the fall and spring; however, the summer provides an additional opportunity for students to distribute credits throughout three terms or earn additional credits during that time. As a reminder, the dates for the terms are as follows: 

  • Fall Term (September 8- December 23)
  • Spring Term (January 11- April 26)
  • Summer Term (Summer A: May 3- June 18, Summer B: June 28- Aug. 16)
  • Commencement scheduled for the last week of April

Academic departments and programs have adjusted their curricular offerings across the Fall, Spring, and Summer terms to allow students flexibility in fulfilling their requirements and making progress towards their degrees. More news on this will be shared in coming weeks.

Academic Format
As noted by President Bollinger, all Fall classes will have an online component: some courses will be taught entirely online, while other courses may be taught in a hybrid model that combines in-person and online components. There will be a small number of classes held entirely in person. Decisions about Spring and Summer courses will be finalized as public health decisions develop over the coming months. I know that this has a particular impact on our international students, whom President Bollinger also addressed earlier today. More news will be shared about this unique population as soon as we are able.

While this past spring required a sudden shift to remote learning, in which faculty and Columbia had to transition with no notice, we are now actively engaged in preparations that will ensure the richest academic experience possible, in keeping with Columbia’s standards of excellence.  We have reviewed student feedback about remote learning in the spring and faculty are reflecting on ways to continue to improve the learning experience for everyone. This will be a continuing priority throughout the duration of the summer.

Campus Life
Current projections and assessments based on NYC and NY State guidelines indicate we might be able to bring back to campus up to 60% of our undergraduate population in Columbia College and Columbia Engineering. This number could continue to change but it represents our current aspiration. We know all students and families deeply value the experience of residential life as a key component of the college experience. Yet, to achieve our distancing requirements, not all students will be able to safely return to campus right away and we will utilize single rooms for all housing assignments.  We have begun planning to offer student programs and services virtually and we will work closely with students to develop new and creative ways to uphold and sustain our bonds and community spirit.

Along these lines, we have decided to offer the New Student Orientation Program (NSOP) as a virtual experience for our newest students, who will receive more details about this later this week.

Those who return to Columbia’s campus will be asked to agree to the Columbia Community Health Compact, which will require each individual to comply with established health and safety protocols and to uphold our shared commitment to limit the spread of the virus and to protect one another’s well-being.

Residential Life
As outlined in President Bollinger’s message, we plan to bring back first- and second- year students to campus this Fall, in addition to accommodating a small population of students with special circumstances.  We then plan to invite third- and fourth-year students to join us in the Spring term.  This is all contingent on evolving health guidelines but we are hopeful that all students will have the opportunity to be back on campus for at least one semester during this upcoming year.

Tomorrow, students who were guaranteed campus housing for this year will receive more information about how to confirm or update their interest in living on campus. In addition, as noted above, we’ll consider special circumstances that may necessitate on-campus housing for certain populations, including: 

  • Students who lack safe and necessary conditions for learning in their home environment
  • Students who are pursuing advanced academic projects that require access to materials and spaces found only on campus
  • International students who have visa and travel concerns
  • Students with an existing accommodation with Columbia Health and/or students who have discussed personal circumstances with a provider in Columbia Health

Health & Safety Protocols
Columbia is establishing many new restrictions and protocols that will affect daily life across campus and in residence halls. These will be in the spirit of maintaining the individual health and safety of every member of our community, including yours.  While there is a great deal still being detailed, new aspects of campus life will very likely include:

  • Regular testing and contract tracing protocols throughout campus to monitor resident student and staff health
  • Requirements for wearing face coverings and continued physical distancing of six feet
  • Residence halls will utilize only single bedrooms to start
  • Columbia Dining will offer take-out and pre-packaged meal options, including traditional hot and cold foods  
  • Limited access to many campus facilities, potentially including the Libraries and Dodge Fitness Center
  • In-person student events will be limited, if they exist at all, due to capacity constraints in gathering spaces, which will continue to be adjusted throughout the year
  • There will be limits or restrictions regarding guests on-campus, both in the residence halls and as part of student events
  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfection of all facilities, in accordance to health guidelines
  • New York City itself may have additional requirements that all residents must abide by, including limited subway usage, restrictions in public spaces and more
  • If infections occur, we will isolate those infected and quarantine those who come into contact with them

You can find more information and stay up to date by visiting the College resource page, which includes answers to many of your questions. To help with our continued planning, please complete this mandatory questionnaire to assist us in our next phase . Your completion is required by Friday, July 10.  

With all the information I’ve shared today, please know things will continue to change. We cannot control the trajectory of the pandemic, in New York City or in the places around the world our students call home. In the coming weeks, the College will send more updates to answer additional questions and to provide the support you need as you prepare for fall.

This has been a challenging time of enormous change, in which we have all been asked to sacrifice so much with no guaranteed return, except for our belief in the future. As we move forward together, I want to emphasize the importance of your own well-being and the need to take the time necessary to also care for yourself. Remember to reach out to your advisers or to connect with our counselors in CPS, available via virtual delivery throughout the summer.   

The year ahead will be full of unknowns but I believe that Columbians will adopt flexible mindsets so we can make the most of this truly unusual time in history. There is no perfect situation in a global pandemic and so I am especially appreciative of your patience, generosity of spirit and forbearance as we move forward.  

Thank you for taking time to read this important update. I wish you and your loved ones a healthy and safe summer and look forward to sharing more updates soon.

Dean James J. Valentini

The full text of President Bollinger’s emails is below. Bwog’s post about President Beilock’s email, sent out earlier today, is linked here.

Plans for the Coming Academic Year:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

It is now the moment to focus our attention on how the University will operate in the coming academic year. As you might imagine, no decisions in our history have been taken with more seriousness, care, or rigor than the ones we set forth here and in following correspondence. 

These have been trying times for everyone, albeit in varying degrees. For many, especially our students, lives have been on hold. Dreams have been upended and opportunities seemingly thwarted. It is and will remain our central goal to correct this. Unfortunately, no perfect path lies ahead; there are too many variables outside our control. But we will do everything we can, at every moment, to recapture the rich, intense intellectual life that constitutes our very reason for existence. The COVID-19 pandemic remains a major public health threat, and the challenges we face collectively, as well as individually, are daunting. Today it is time to move forward with what we believe to be the best possible plan for Columbia. 

Academic Life

As I announced previously, Columbia will operate on a three-term cycle for the 2020-2021 academic year. Classes for the fall term will begin on schedule, September 8, but the spring and summer terms will be moved up on the calendar. Classes for spring 2021 will start on January 11 and for the summer term on May 3. Each term will offer the option of immersive courses by being divided into two, equal-length sequential blocks. The first summer term block will end on June 18 in order to allow students time for internships and other work. Commencement exercises will take place at the end of the spring term, during the last week of April.

Across the University as we enter the fall term, courses will be offered in multiple formats, almost always with an online option, as we restore face-to-face instruction as soon as possible. We are now equipping our classrooms with new technology that will ensure a rich learning experience for students, whether they participate in person or virtually. 

Faculty response to new models of teaching necessitated by the pandemic has been tremendous. We want to support faculty in every way we can. Training has already begun for all instructional modalities. As we move back into a partial in-person educational environment, questions will inevitably arise about who will provide this teaching. It is important, therefore, to say at the outset that the University will not prescribe an approach for individual faculty members. Faculty will have leeway to teach in person, online, or some combination of the two, in consultation with their schools. 

Graduate and professional schools will have flexibility to design their own reopening plans, as they take account of the specific nature of their coursework and student and faculty preferences. It is nothing short of amazing to witness the creativity and thoughtfulness of our deans as they work with their faculties and staff to develop their distinctive approaches to reopening their programs. Each will shortly announce their decisions. 

Thus, all students should expect in the coming days to receive additional information from their schools about the upcoming year. These school-specific messages, along with all related news, will be posted on the COVID-19 Resource Guide website

Undergraduate Residential Life

One of the most intricate aspects of the reopening process has been configuring our residence halls to ensure that they are healthy living spaces. We have determined that we can safely offer on-campus housing to 60 percent of our Columbia College and The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences undergraduate students, who traditionally live in our campus residence halls. Additionally, we will be able to accommodate the same proportion of Columbia School of General Studies undergraduate students in off-campus Columbia residential housing as we have in the past.

We are committed to offering CC/SEAS undergraduates the option of living on campus for some portion of the academic year. For the fall term, we will invite first-year and second-year students, together with entering transfer students and entering 3-2 Combined Plan Program students who apply for on-campus housing. Students with special or extenuating needs for on-campus resources may apply for an exception to live on campus.

If, in light of public health conditions, we must continue on the current path of our 60 percent guidelines for CC/SEAS students in residence halls, first- and second-year students would depart campus at the Thanksgiving break, finishing their courses and exams remotely, and third- and fourth-year students would be invited to move into campus residence halls in early January for the spring term. We believe it is especially important for fourth-year students to experience their capstone term in person, if they are able to do so.

We understand that many undergraduates will be unable to return to campus in person, due to the federal government’s deeply disturbing visa restrictions, health concerns, or other personal reasons. If first- and second-year student residence hall acceptances do not reach the 60 percent ceiling, additional students will be invited until we have reached our campus housing capacity. As I mentioned previously, we will give additional priority to students in any year who do not have access to the conditions necessary for academic success in their home environments. School deans will be in touch with further information about this commitment. 

Campus Life

While we will provide flexibility in teaching and scholarship and will seek to provide an on-campus experience to as many undergraduate students as possible, we do have to impose strict guidelines that will apply to all who live, work, study, and teach at Columbia. 

Our recently adopted campus health policy will require that persons on campus wear a face covering at all times, unless they are in a private room with the door closed. Physical distancing will be enforced throughout campus, especially in classrooms and residence halls. Many University staff members will remain remote through the fall term—additional guidance is forthcoming. All faculty and staff who have returned to campus after some research activities resumed on June 22 have been tested for COVID-19, and each day they are required to complete a symptom self-check. The same requirements will apply to students, and subsequent periodic testing will also be added. A detailed overview of public health protocols on campus is available here.

Finally, all students, faculty, and staff on the Columbia campus will be asked to sign a compact that encompasses two-way commitments from the University and its community members. This is an unusual step for us, but it reflects the extraordinary degree to which we are dependent on each other to remain healthy and to maintain any semblance of the university experience we all cherish and are together seeking to restore. 

Please keep in mind that every decision we make related to resuming in-person instruction and residential life will be contingent on New York moving into Phase 4 of its reopening plan. We are required to submit to the State our own detailed reopening plan, demonstrating how we will operate and ensure the health and safety of our campus community and neighborhood. We expect to have final clearance from the State to proceed by the week of August 10. If New York City has not entered Phase 4 by August 15, we will determine if it will be necessary to make changes to our fall term plans.

As I indicated at the outset, we are all painfully aware of how disruptive and dangerous the virus has been. The costs of the pandemic in human lives lost and unprecedented economic damage have not yet been fully grasped. The effects on our political culture have been profound, and it can fairly be said that we are reeling from the incalculable damage. None of us knows what trajectory the pandemic will take in the months and possibly years ahead, or when communities like ours will reunite in full form. 

I know we all are committed to adjusting to the world as it comes, while holding dear to our purposes and values. Already we can see signs and examples of creativity that will sustain us not only through the crisis, but forever. This is a defining experience especially for the youngest among us, and all the intelligence and dedication we possess will be devoted to guiding them through it. 

In this spirit, let me draw special attention to one group, in particular. We need to find ways to enable the international students who are in the United States to complete their studies here and to expand and deepen opportunities for Columbia’s large community of international students who cannot come to Columbia because of the pandemic. So, for instance, we are adapting our network of Columbia Global Centers and new Pop-Up Global Center locations to provide in-person academic and peer engagement for many of these students. This will provide a dynamic learning experience in their own or nearby countries and regions. 

We are also trying to teach in the moment and to draw on the extraordinary array of intellectual talent in the University that can help us, and students specifically, interpret and understand the historic effects of the pandemic in the years and decades ahead. 

Columbia College, in partnership with the Columbia Global Centers and Columbia World Projects, has launched the Global Columbia Collaboratory, which will focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. This academic experience is designed to give students—indeed, all of us—the skills, understanding, and ways of thinking that will be needed to lead a world so desperately in search of knowledgeable responses to endlessly complex issues. 

Yet another example: The Columbia School of General Studies is working with the Columbia School of Social Work and the Mailman School of Public Health to develop a co-curricular undergraduate academy, which will begin this fall and will be focused on matters of justice and pandemic preparedness. It will look at communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including many of the neighborhoods surrounding our own campus. 

And, the Columbia Design Challenges, which is offered by Columbia Engineering with partners across the institution, will provide students the chance to see how engineering and applied science together with other disciplines can engage with challenges such as climate change, social justice, and, of course, pandemics.

Let me close by saying that I know this is and will continue to be an immensely difficult time, most especially for those whom the pandemic has affected directly. I want to take this opportunity to remind you that counselors and specialists are available for students on the Columbia Morningside and Columbia University Irving Medical Center campuses, and for faculty and staff through the University’s Employee Assistance Program. Religious Life also offers pastoral counseling. Your deans and other University leaders will provide additional information in the coming days and weeks. I also encourage you to visit the COVID-19 Resource Guide website to track related news and announcements. And, as always, I promise to be back in touch as developments warrant. 


Lee C. Bollinger


Response to Recently Announced ICE Restrictions:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I’ve just announced Columbia’s approach to reopening in the fall. I also want to address a specific group of students, our international students, whose lives have been particularly disrupted by COVID-19—and who are now the subject of a deeply misguided new decision by the U.S. government.

Yesterday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) provided notice of federal rules that will require international students with F visas to leave the United States if their course of study is entirely online. International students enrolled in hybrid programs providing a mix of in-person and online classes will retain their visas only if they take the minimum number of online classes needed for normal progress in their degree program. Together, these changes mark a devastating reversal of federal policy announced at the onset of the pandemic.

Last week, I pledged to oppose restrictive immigration policies impeding the entry of international faculty, physicians, and research scholars into the U.S. Today, I repeat that pledge. The destructive and indefensible purpose driving these policies is by now all too familiar, as is the resulting damage to the nation’s academic institutions. I will not belabor these points, beyond calling on all of us to remain focused on the ways in which punitive immigration policies severely disrupt and cause enormous harm to the lives of the international students who are part of our Columbia family. With this in mind, there are three important courses of action for us to pursue in the wake of yesterday’s announcement.

First, as the University and each of our deans continue to make decisions about the structure of course offerings for the coming academic year, we must endeavor to configure hybrid classes providing in-person and remote learning options that alleviate the negative effect of these new regulations on Columbia students; we want our international students to be able to complete their studies here, if at all possible. Second, for the large community of international students who cannot come to Columbia because of the pandemic, we will be adapting our network of Columbia Global Centers and creating Pop-Up Global Centers in new locations to provide in-person academic and peer engagement. And, third, as I stated last week, we must continue to vigorously oppose immigration policies that damage Columbia, higher education, the national interest, and the international students, researchers, and faculty who immeasurably enrich our institution and the intellectual and personal experiences of each of us.

We are continuing to consider the implications of yesterday’s announcement and will be providing additional guidance. The International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) is a wonderful resource for all of our international students—should you have any additional questions or concerns, please reach out to Associate Provost David Austell (, or Associate Director Samantha Lu (


Lee C. Bollinger

Image via Bwog Archives