Message from Emory Leadership


Dear Emory faculty, staff, and students,

We are writing to provide important updates on Emory University’s plans for the fall semester. As we have prepared to share this plan with you, we have been heartened by the requests from many in our campus community to reconvene this fall in person. We have heard your hopes and aspirations to have options to return to campus or study remotely, and we are confident that this plan allows us to partner with you to work toward these goals.

Over the past several months, we have convened leadership across the university, engaged with our leading medical and science experts and consulted federal, state, and local health directives to develop a science- and data-based plan that works for Emory. We have made decisions on which we are confident we can deliver, including contingency plans for various scenarios, and that allow us to best serve the academic needs of our students.

Our Topline Decisions

  • We will offer both online and in-person classes this fall, allowing us to provide the excellence of an Emory education to all students.
  • The academic calendar will shift to start on August 19, with classes ending by Thanksgiving and exams conducted remotely.
  • Residence halls will be open with a standard of no more than two students per room.

We want to stress that faculty, staff, and students will have options for returning to campus or interacting remotely. Our goal is for everyone to feel comfortable participating in the community and to have options that reflect your preferences for continuing your education, conducting research and teaching, or serving our students. We want to provide options for you to make the best decisions and to have confidence in our planning should you decide to return in person.

While much will be different this fall, there are core elements of the Emory experience that will remain the same: We will deliver courses that meet Emory’s rigorous standards and that are taught by our world-renowned faculty, members of the academic campus community will have access to the tremendous resources of our research university, and students will be part of a community known for its support while our students are pursuing degrees with us and throughout their careers. We will deliver an equivalent Emory experience, knowing the necessity of health and safety protocols will prevent us from providing an identical experience to past years.

One lesson from the current pandemic is that plans must stay flexible to adapt to global, national, and regional changes. For this reason, we ask that as you review how we envision the fall experience at this time, you also understand there may be a need for us to pivot our plan to maintain community health and preserve academic continuity. Know we have contingency plans in place should we need them.

Fall Classes

With faculty, student, and staff health and safety as necessary considerations, the academic calendar was modified so that undergraduate classes will begin no later than August 19 and conclude by Thanksgiving, with the final evaluation period conducted remotely. The traditional schedule will be further modified by holding classes on Labor Day and eliminating fall break. Graduate and professional schools may amend this schedule slightly to meet curricular needs. (Note: The calendars for graduate, professional, and select undergraduate programs may start a bit earlier or later and include different milestone dates. Please refer to your school’s website for further details.)

To maintain choices for our students, Emory will offer expanded online class options that are designed for a comprehensive remote learning experience. For our classroom environments, we will cap most in-person, large lectures to minimize class sizes and to follow physical distancing guidelines. Any rare but essential large lecture classes will be held in facilities that can accommodate appropriate physical distancing measures. It is important to note that we expect students will need to adjust their schedules to accommodate changes in course offerings and formats. Further, we expect that students’ schedules will have either online courses or a mix of in-person and online courses, based on their preference. It may be rare for students to have entirely in-person schedules. Students will receive forthcoming emails explaining the new process and options in detail. Tuition will be applied uniformly regardless of the mix of online and in-person courses as we will provide equivalent experiences regardless of type of delivery.

We are committed to working with faculty to accommodate their preferred course format and with students to offer courses that meet their preferences and continue their progress toward graduation. Again, our efforts are focused on providing choice while maintaining our community’s health.

Please note that strict cleaning protocols for classroom spaces will be implemented. Students will be appropriately spaced in classrooms and will be required to follow protocols for entering/exiting classrooms to avoid overlap with other students. We will implement multiple measures to ensure cleanliness and safety and will communicate those to the campus community in advance of resumption of courses.

Residence Halls

Emory and Oxford Colleges are designed to offer residential learning opportunities that are valued by students. Therefore, we will offer on-campus housing options for the fall but will limit dorm room occupancy to two students per room. We will work with students to accommodate single room requests for those who are immunocompromised or have other health considerations. We are also expanding housing options beyond the residence halls to include Emory Conference Center Hotel for Atlanta students, and hotel options for Oxford students. Housing decisions were made after consultation with national housing experts and our own medical and health-based faculty and in accordance with multilevel health directives. As importantly, we know we have the ability, resources, and expertise to implement this plan.

Similar to our planning for classroom and common spaces, we will implement enhanced cleaning protocols, and all residence hall students will be made aware of our shared responsibilities to maintain cleanliness.

For our students in our residence halls, know that this fall’s experience will be different. Students may be taking online courses from their rooms, community spaces will have new distancing and restricted occupancy expectations, and we will limit the size of gatherings—including those held in residence halls—to maintain a healthy environment. 

If you are planning to reside in the residence halls this fall, please watch for an email from our housing staff that outlines move-in dates and procedures, fee schedules and policies, additional checklists and considerations, and tools to help with the transition back to campus.

Testing, Social Norming, and Expectations for Students

COVID-19 testing will be mandatory for all students living in residence halls, along with those taking in-person classes, upon or shortly before returning to campus, and will be available at any time during the semester for those who are symptomatic and for their close contacts. Faculty and staff will have access to testing on demand.

Testing of symptomatic people, as well as those in close contact with people diagnosed with COVID-19, is currently underway on campus and will continue in the fall. Testing, contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, and other measures will be implemented to limit transmission of COVID-19 in our community. We cannot guarantee you will not get sick, but together we can support each other in our academic pursuits, in community, and in health.

All members of the Emory community who come to campus will be required to self-monitor on a daily basis for signs of COVID-19. Trained university staff will conduct random temperature checks across campus each day. Those with fevers will be required to have a clinical evaluation and to be tested, as appropriate.

We are developing health education programs and materials to ensure community awareness and understanding of indications of illness as well as risks that lead to the spread of the disease. We will also clearly delineate what we expect from members of our community to maintain health and cleanliness standards, including face covering, distancing, cleaning protocols, and general health guidance. Students may not opt out of community expectations for health and safety—everyone must participate for our campus community to stay healthy. Further information on testing and community awareness efforts will be sent to you in the coming weeks.

Details Still Forthcoming

While this letter outlines the broad strokes of what we know, decisions that have been made and health-based protocols, there are still elements we are working through based on a changing virus and world. In addition to adjusting our plan as the external environment may necessitate, we are still working through specific details that are dependent upon how many members of our campus come back in person versus online and how we can safely allow community experiences. These decisions will be based on a scientific review of information and its application to our campus needs so that we can continue to make sound decisions on behalf of our Emory community.

Additional information will be sent with specifics on social distancing and norming to best reflect growing knowledge of COVID-19 and how it is transmitted. This information will also influence policies regarding campus visitors and decisions about traditions like Family Weekend and Homecoming. Our protocols for cleaning, testing, and contact tracing may need to be updated and any changes will be clearly articulated. We have heard requests to retain as much of the college experience as possible, and we ask for your understanding as we implement equivalent, but not identical, experiences.

Next Steps

We know you will have a number of questions about your return online or in person this fall. You will receive communications from additional leaders across campus over the coming days that will provide additional specificity and resources. We apologize for any repetition, but we want all members of the community to make decisions about returning to campus that are in their best interest.

Ongoing resources will be available on the Emory website. Please bookmark the Emory Forward page for questions or concerns. And view the campus presentation  with President-Elect Gregory L. Fenves; Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Jan Love; Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, Executive Director of Woodruff Health Sciences Center, and President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board, Emory Healthcare Jonathan S. Lewin; and Executive Vice President Business and Administration and Chief Financial Officer Christopher L. Augostini. They will provide further depth on the fall planning details and rationale behind the decisions. In the coming days, deans and additional campus leaders will hold town hall discussions to delineate what the fall decisions mean for their communities. We encourage you to attend and participate. These presentations will be archived on the Emory Forward site, where you can also view a video message from President Claire E. Sterk.

In addition, you will receive a survey. It is critically important that you participate in the survey as it will help us to make final decisions that need community input and to plan for your return to campus. We want your experience this fall to reflect your preferences, and this will be a critical step in our planning process. 

We know that our community wants to be back together on campus, and we look forward to welcoming you or introducing ourselves upon your return, too. It will be a different kind of semester, one filled with changes and choices, with new ways to connect and build relationships. But it will still be a uniquely Emory experience. Please look for additional information in the weeks to come and we welcome your feedback and questions. 

Claire E. Sterk, President

Gregory L. Fenves, President-elect