Spring 2021 at the GSD

Dear GSD community,

After exhaustive scenario planning, I write to you today to share the decision that the GSD will continue with remote teaching, following the existing academic calendar, with no building access through the spring 2021 semester. GSD Staff who are able to work from home should plan to continue to do so.

We very much appreciate the students who took part in the survey that Student Forum sent out last week. The results of that survey as well as mid-semester evaluations, and the teaching task force survey all provided valuable information for informing our planning for the spring. While this is not the choice I had hoped to be sharing with you, it stems from a number of factors: the rising infection rate in Cambridge, Somerville, and the rest of the Boston area; the challenge of making the single space of the trays truly safe; and the continued closure of U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide, making it impossible for many of our international students to obtain visas.

This is disappointing news, but we are not unprepared. We have doubled-down on investing in efforts to support how we teach, learn, and organize ourselves and exist as a community online, and over the coming months we will be rolling out additional initiatives aimed at moving the school further in that direction.

More details are forthcoming, but a few to mention include efforts by the Loeb Library to expand digitization of its holdings for needs beyond the immediate needs of courses, as well as the library’s plans to initiate a book-mailing program for materials that cannot be accessed in any other way. This semester, we are also piloting a project on virtual site visits through Urban Design’s core studio and Charlotte Malterre-Barthes and Rahul Mehrotra’s current studio on Ishkashim, Afghanistan. We hope to expand on this work and make virtual site visits more widely available by the spring. We are also working with alumni to schedule socially distanced small gatherings of our students and alumni across the globe.

The school is also aiming to release two significant web projects in the coming months that will expand the ways in which faculty and students can share work and engage each other online. One is a project provisionally titled “GSD Now,” which will provide a real-time and comprehensive view on all activities happening across the school at any given time, and provide a means for students (and courses) to share work more broadly and publicly across the school’s community. The second is a new website-building toolkit for faculty and student groups that will enable rapid creation of customized websites and will accommodate a wide range of purposes, web development skills, and available budgets. Lastly, the work of the Innovation Task Force has been enormously influential on all of the projects described above, and they will continue to serve as the school’s in-house think tank, helping to guide our immersion online in ways that are smart and effective.

As we did in preparation for the fall term, we are setting a Leave of Absence (LoA) deadline of noon on November 2, to enable us to finalize our course offerings for the spring. As we noted with this fall’s LoA deadline, if the number of students going on a LoA exceeds the spots we’ll have next year when new students enter into our programs, we will have to revert to a lottery system in order to spread returns across two years. We will be calculating the numbers and will let you all know as soon as possible when we have. In the meantime, please go to this resource page on the GSD’s website for further information about LoAs. Each program will be holding a town hall conversation with their students prior to this deadline.

Students with visa questions should contact the Harvard International Office, or visit their newly updated FAQ section, which provides answers to many questions about visas, COVID-19, and online learning for international students. Harvard’s COVID-19 information page is available and regularly updated, and the GSD’s COVID-19 resource page is also regularly updated.

In closing, I want to thank our faculty, staff, and students who have worked hard to make this semester special and who are committed to making the spring a success as well.

All my best,

Sarah M. Whiting