Our Approach to Fall Quarter

Photo: Toni Bird

As I write in mid-August, we are deep into planning for the 2020-21 academic year. Back to school is an important time at Stanford, as we prepare to reunite with friends and colleagues for another year of learning and discovery. It is typically a time of excitement and joy.

Of course, this year is unlike any other. In planning for the fall, we are navigating the challenges and uncertainties created by the coronavirus pandemic. As I write, we have, with great regret, just concluded that the current public health situation prevents us from bringing half of our undergraduates to campus this fall, as we had previously hoped. 

We hope and plan to bring undergraduates back to Stanford as soon as health conditions allow. We will also continue to offer on-campus accommodations to undergraduates who need housing due to special circumstances. Many graduate students, whose residential arrangements differ significantly from undergraduates, will still reside on campus. 

‘We are firmly committed to ensuring that it will be a rewarding quarter for undergraduate and graduate students alike.’

That said, while this autumn will be unlike any other, we are firmly committed to ensuring that it will be a rewarding quarter for undergraduate and graduate students alike. We have known for some time that most courses would be taught online to protect the health of our community. For that reason, faculty members have spent the summer translating their courses into online formats and learning new techniques for engaging students virtually. As just one example, an art course for first-year students will build community through shared sketchbooks, which will be mailed from student to student throughout the quarter. I am confident that creative approaches like this will not only make the courses enriching, but also lead to new discoveries and fresh perspectives.

We are likewise working to re-create a vibrant community experience, no matter where students are located. Many student organizations are offering remote participation options, and this year’s Student Activities Fair will be virtual. We are looking into new ways to build community remotely, including creating communities to connect students with others in the same time zone.

‘Despite the university’s fiscal constraints caused by the pandemic, we are maintaining our commitment to covering tuition in full for undergraduate families with annual incomes below $150,000.’

Both undergraduate and graduate students will have access to remote career planning services, professional development activities, community service activities and more. Remote mental health resources will be available through Counseling and Psychological Services, and the Office for Religious Life will provide regular opportunities to connect and reflect. 

As we support our students through this unusual time, we also realize that many families are now facing additional financial pressures. Despite the university’s fiscal constraints caused by the pandemic, we are maintaining our commitment to covering tuition in full for undergraduate families with annual incomes below $150,000, and we are increasing our financial aid budget to meet the increased need. With so much disruption in our world, I hope that students will find comfort in reconnecting with Stanford and their studies. This year may not offer the traditional Stanford experience, but we are committed to making it a fulfilling experience nonetheless. Though much has changed in our world, Stanford’s mission to educate future leaders and global citizens endures. Our faculty are as eager as ever to share their knowledge with our students, and we are all deeply committed to supporting them as they build community with one another throughout this challenging time.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.