Emails from Barnard and Columbia’s presidents announced that all classes will be online in joint emails sent to students on Friday, recommending that students withdraw from university housing, and plan to follow their courses from home.

This follows an anonymous tip that came in the form of a forwarded email from Dean Erica McGibbon, the Senior Assistant Dean of Students of the School of General Studies. Dean Gibbon wrote that university-wide communication about this matter would be coming in the next day. Several hours later, Beilock and Bollinger followed the leak of this email to the wider student public with the administrations’ official statements.

Additionally, in a news alert posted on Friday, August 14, Barnard announced their decision to conduct all Fall 2020 classes remotely, and that there will be no residential housing this fall. Barnard’s campus will be closed to students, and most staff will continue to work remotely. Barnard students will continue to have access to services such as Furman Counseling Center, Well Woman, and Primary Care Health Services. The comprehensive fee will also be reduced by 10% in light of these changes—tuition will remain the same. Updated bills and financial aid awards will be posted to the student portal by August 21, in light of the reversal of room and board charges. Student leaders who planned to arrive on Monday are now asked to change their plans. Students facing extenuating circumstances can apply for campus housing, but Barnard will not be able to accommodate all requests. 

Columbia’s campus will remain open and 40% of all graduate courses will be held in-person. Undergraduate classes will all be virtual but Columbia will still offer housing to CC and SEAS students who received special accommodations to be on campus for academic or personal reasons. GS student housing remains unchanged. This, of course, falls short of the 60% of students that CC and SEAS planned to allow on campus. Originally, first- and second-year students were all invited to live in the dorms and NYC-based students would have been welcome on campus to participate in campus life as much as possible, with restrictions on large group gatherings and enforced social distancing policies. Options for a hybrid of in-person and remote learning varied, based on the availability of classroom space, class size, and the ability of professors or teaching assistants to be present on campus. Over the course of the summer, students re-registered for both housing as well as Fall 2020 classes, as 5-person limits were imposed on housing groups, and curricula across the University changed to reflect the constraints of remote learning, and the “big questions” brought up by a pandemic. Per emails sent by Dean Valentini and Dean Boyce, tuition across the university’s schools will remain the same as last year’s, undoing the planned two percent increase.

This change is in line with similar announcements from other universities: Princeton’s decision for a fully remote Fall 2020 semester, the University of Pennsylvania’s decision to provide campus housing only for those in extenuating circumstances and urging students not to return to Philadelphia, and Harvard’s plan for the majority of their staff to continue working remotely through the end of the calendar year. However, other universities have moved ahead with resuming in-person classes, with move-in at Duke University having begun on August 7. Several Southern state schools, such as the state university systems of North Carolina and Florida, are also planning to welcome students and teachers back for classes. Closer to home, NYU and Fordham are both still planning to welcome students back in mid- to late August for a variety of class styles: in-person, blended, and remote.

The timing of this change of plan is, to say the least, concerning, as Barnard orientation leaders and resident assistants move into campus housing on Monday, and the remainder of the Columbia and Barnard student populations in campus housing this year (many of whom have already signed leases, booked accommodations, and made travel plans) have already begun to prepare to move into campus later this month. Additionally, many students coming from hot-spot states, including all Barnard students, have arranged to quarantine off-campus two weeks prior to the beginning of classes on September 8. It is unclear what steps the university will take to help with the burden of these costs, some of which are non-refundable.

Editor’s Note: The story has been updated to reflect announcements made by Deans Valentini and Boyce regarding the cost of tuition for the upcoming year.

President Bollinger and President Beilock’s emails can be found in full below.

President Bollinger’s email to the Columbia community:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

In early July, I wrote to announce our plans for how Columbia would operate in the coming academic year in the face of an historic pandemic. The goal underlying and animating that message remains the same today: to continue our mission of research, education, clinical care, and service with all the dedication we can summon and consistent with the highest degree of safety and wellbeing for our entire community that we can possibly achieve. Between then and now the institution has dedicated every possible minute and resource to that end. In addition to the creativity applied to revising our academic life, we have reshaped our landscape of public health. There has been robust training; implementation of symptom attestation, testing, and contact tracing programs; and multiple sessions to prepare our communities for this new life. We have transformed our physical spaces to minimize risk and to optimize campus life in a socially distant environment.  

These extraordinary efforts have made it possible to bring back almost ten thousand faculty, researchers, and essential employees to continue and resume clinical care, education, and research on campus. We have instituted an internally run testing program, through which we have not yet seen a positive test result. I am profoundly grateful to everyone involved for their relentless efforts in getting us to this point. 

In that July letter, I also indicated our need to evaluate the circumstances prevailing at this time, and I committed to sharing with you a final assessment by August 15. Now is that moment. While New York City is well along in its phased reopening process, as we all know, the surges of the pandemic continue and its grip on American life has not eased. This, unfortunately, has consequences for us. Though six weeks ago we thought that we could safely house 60 percent of Columbia College and Engineering undergraduates in our residence halls, today we have concluded that we must drastically scale back the number of students we can accommodate in residence on campus, thereby limiting residential-style living only to Columbia College and SEAS undergraduates who must be present on campus due to personal or academic circumstances. Housing arrangements for School of General Studies undergraduates will remain unchanged. We will continue to evaluate undergraduate housing options for the spring term. 

We remain committed to the academic success of all undergraduate students in these difficult circumstances, and we will make provisions for the return to residence halls of students who cannot pursue their academic programs successfully without being present on campus. This includes those without access to stable internet, quiet study space, and other prerequisites for remote learning, and those whose academic progress depends upon lab research, access to special archives, or other activities that cannot be effectively accomplished online. Your deans will be in touch with details about these provisions for student return.

This is a hard and difficult decision. Many of you are aware that State protocols require all students from the now 31 states and 2 territories included in New York’s high-risk list to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive here. A very large percentage of our residence hall population falls into this category. Affected students are required to reside alone in their dorm rooms, or (as would be the case for most students) in hotels, or other private quarters, at all times.

While I am supportive of the measures New York State has imposed, and while I have no doubt that we could ensure a safe quarantine period from a public health standpoint, two weeks is a long time to endure isolation, especially for students who will be leaving home for the first time. Conditions for all students in quarantine will be austere, to say the least. And, of course, after the quarantine period ends, various restrictions related to social interactions and other forms of gatherings on campus will remain in place, limiting the quality of life for students residing on campus because of the nature of dormitory-style spaces. These two considerations combined are a major part of our decision.

With few undergraduate students living on campus, we have decided that all undergraduate courses will be virtual. There is the physical capacity to conduct many undergraduate courses in person, but students now will be living in so many locations, and under such varied circumstances, that online instruction is the only realistic approach. This means that, no matter where undergraduates spend the fall term, many courses and opportunities for interaction with faculty will be available to each student. There will still be the chance to learn from some of the finest minds and teachers in the world and to experience the dazzling creativity that marks a truly outstanding university such as Columbia.

Now, there are very important points to add. Despite these changes, necessitated as they have been by the particular circumstances of undergraduate life, Columbia will continue to be open and moving ahead towards our goal of regaining every essence of personal intellectual engagement. The careful metrics, grounded in science, that we have established to assess whether we have achieved the necessary conditions for return have been satisfied. Graduate and professional schools are executing carefully constructed plans for the upcoming term, with many having converted to hybrid and in-person models that will allow for some classroom-based instruction, while taking into account the needs of international and other students who may be unable to be physically present due to immigration or travel restrictions or other reasons. Approximately 40 percent of all graduate courses offered this fall will be hybrid or in-person (including my small seminar on Advanced Issues in the First Amendment in the Law School), and I completely support and admire deans who are offering these forms of instruction despite the many obstacles we have all confronted. In every school and college, and all across the University, we see faculty demonstrating impressive resilience and creativity in designing and redesigning their courses and displaying the passionate commitment to their students that Columbia is justifiably known for. 

That brings me to the last observation. There is every reason to believe that the conditions that we are experiencing now will continue in one form or another, in one degree or another, for an extended period. Even if one is, as I am inclined to be, optimistic about getting all this behind us, we must assume we will be living with a significant degree of uncertainty for quite some time. That means many things. Among them, we must be prepared to shift as conditions change. We should, accordingly, think of the decision about undergraduates and the fall term as part of a phased return. We need to establish a sense of confidence among us, turn to our experts in public health for guidance, calibrate our sense of risk based on best evidence, think in terms of the common good, and talk—again and again. Finally, as many of our rhythms of intellectual life are disrupted, we must make sure we are experimenting and learning from the vast array of teaching opportunities we will be exploring. 

This is a moment to give our primary focus to our students, and I know I speak on behalf of the entire faculty and staff when I say this is being done. We know your lives are being shaped by this pandemic in ways you never contemplated possible. Please know we stand ready to help. And, a final expression of unending gratitude to all within the Columbia community who are making this journey feel like a true community effort. 


Lee C. Bollinger

President Beilock’s email to the Barnard community:

Dear Barnard Students,

With no small measure of disappointment, but with confidence that we are taking the best long-term path for our students, faculty, and staff, I am writing to you today with an important change in Barnard’s plans for the Fall semester. Rather than beginning the year together on campus, we have made the difficult decision, in parallel with Columbia University, to conduct all undergraduate classes remotely for the Fall semester. As such, there will be no residential housing this fall.

Like so many of you, I have been looking forward to the day when we can come together again on campus as a community. Making this decision does not come easily. In fact, we held off on final decision-making as long as possible to increase the chances of an in-person fall. But as New York’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory list has grown to 33 states and territories, it has become clear that the state-mandated quarantine — under conditions that Barnard does not have the facilities to accommodate — would put an unreasonable burden on many of our students and their families. Although we have confidence in our plans to reopen campus, the current situation in the country and the resulting New York State mandates make an in-person start to the academic year untenable.

In shifting to remote learning for the Fall semester, we believe that we can create a better and safer start to the year. We know, too, that we can offer an outstanding, Barnard-quality education remotely. Moreover, we are learning more about COVID-19 every day. The extra time we gain through this fall period of remote learning will help us ensure that our campus community can return to in-person learning in the safest possible way. Not only will this time give us greater confidence in New York City’s ability to maintain a low number of COVID-19 cases, it will also hopefully allow time for the caseload in the country as a whole to stabilize and for many states to drop off New York State’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory list.

Assuming the number of COVID-19 cases in New York State and City remains low and circumstances in the country have improved, we hope to begin the Spring semester both in person and virtually as previously planned on January 11, 2021.

When we carefully planned our new calendar for the 2020-21 academic year, we were focused on creating the highest-quality academic and co-curricular experience for Barnard students to learn wherever they were. We divided the semester into A and B terms and built in a third (Summer) term. We did this with the understanding that we might need more time to return to in-person classes and residential life. We were also informed by pedagogical research that suggests that intensive classes can benefit learning in remote settings.

To that end, nearly all of Barnard’s fall classes have been restructured to enhance remote instruction, and one-third are being taught as intensives during either Fall A or B. In addition, many classes and co-curricular activities have been reorganized to focus on the current moment, from a new course all first-years will take, “Big Problems: Making Sense of 2020,” to ThirdSpace@Barnard, which will guide and connect students where they are — across the country and the world — to local community and civic engagement projects.

Current room and board charges will be reversed. In recognition of these uncertain times and our move to fully remote living and learning for the Fall semester, we will be reducing the Fall semester comprehensive fee by 10%. Financial aid awards will be adjusted to account for the lower cost of attendance.

We also recognize that some students who were planning to live on campus for the Fall term may have extenuating circumstances that make securing alternative housing difficult, and we are prepared to help. You can find assistance here. We have also launched, through Access Barnard, the new Supplemental Academic Support Application — a single form for students to apply for additional needs to support their educational progress.

Looking toward Spring, as announced previously, juniors and seniors will receive preference for on-campus housing. However, we also hope to be able to accommodate many first-year and sophomore students in the residence halls. You will receive more information about registering for Spring housing from Dean Grinage in the coming weeks.

I know that this news creates additional disruption in a year of so many challenges and changes, and we do not make this decision lightly. But we know that we can offer an outstanding Barnard academic and co-curricular experience remotely, while keeping our community safe. Like so many of our Ivy+ peers that have recently decided to put off a return to campus, our delay will give us a better sense of the pandemic’s trajectory and more evidence of how effective our layered strategy of protection has worked in similar settings.

I realize you will have many questions. More information can be found on our updated website, and specific questions can be sent to I will be in touch with you and your families regularly in the coming weeks and throughout the Fall semester.

It goes without saying that the current pandemic is fluid, unpredictable, and will be with us for some time. I want to thank all of Barnard’s faculty and staff who worked tirelessly on our reopening plans. We will use this on-campus pause to continue charting our reopening plans for the Spring semester, in consultation with medical and public health experts at Columbia University.

Let me conclude by thanking you all for your support for the work we are doing to uphold the health and safety of our community as well as the academic excellence that is central to Barnard’s mission. As you have heard me say before, the world needs Barnard’s scholarship and creative thinking more than ever, and it will need the impact made by Barnard graduates for years to come. Right now, this is the most direct path to fulfilling that mission.

With deep appreciation for the Barnard community,

Sian Leah Beilock, President

Low Library via Bwog Archive