The following letter was sent to the MIT community on March 10, 2020 by President L. Rafael Reif.
To the members of the MIT community,
When I wrote last week, we understood that our approach to campus life would need to change, broadly and in many details. As Covid-19 continues to spread, and as public health leaders have offered more definitive guidance, we have come to see that our community has a significant role to play in the concerted public health response to this regional, national and global threat.
State and federal public health officials advise that to slow a spreading virus like Covid-19, the right time for decisive action is before it is established on our campus. Therefore, although the risk to those on campus remains low, given the ongoing spread in our state and elsewhere, we are now escalating our institutional response to protect our entire community – staff, students, postdocs and faculty – and the many communities we belong to.
The overall plan is this:
- All classes are cancelled for the week of Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 20. Because the following week is spring break, this will allow faculty and instructors two weeks to organize a full transition to online instruction.
- Online instruction, which some units are already experimenting with this week, will begin for all classes on Monday, March 30, and continue for the remainder of the semester.
- Undergraduates should not return to campus after spring break. Undergraduates who live in an MIT residence or fraternity, sorority or independent living group (FSILG) must begin packing and departing this Saturday, March 14. We are requiring undergraduates to depart from campus residences no later than noon on Tuesday, March 17. Please see below for detail on graduate students.
- Classes will continue this week as we continue to prepare for this transition.
These steps obviously disrupt the usual patterns of the semester for thousands of you. You will understandably have many questions. This letter offers our initial answers. I hope we can all be patient and respectful with one another as we cope with this extraordinary challenge.
Aiming to reduce risk for all of us
We are taking this dramatic action to protect the health and safety of everyone at MIT –staff, students, postdocs and faculty – and because MIT has an important role in slowing the spread of this disease. As at any residential college, our residence halls and FSILGs put students in close quarters. What’s more, the intense and free-flowing collaboration MIT is known for comes with close contact and shared spaces, equipment and supplies. These characteristics, which we cherish in normal times, increase the risk of Covid-19 spreading on our campus.
Our plan follows directly from state health guidance that universities take steps to reduce the density of the population on campus and increase social distancing. By doing so, we are doing our part to reduce the spread of the disease overall, while directly reducing risk for our own community – for departing students, of course, but equally for those of us who continue to work on campus.
As of this afternoon, in all of Massachusetts, there were 92 confirmed or presumptive cases, 70 of them stemming from a local conference in Boston. We also now know that in late February, we had a recruiter at MIT Sloan who was later diagnosed with Covid-19. This ended up being a low-risk situation for our community – but it might have turned out differently, so we consider this a cautionary tale. (You may read more about it here.)
Given these realities, our teams have been working overtime to prepare the campus for extraordinary measures, which we are now taking. Here are some of the details. Further guidance will be coming on a variety of topics in the days ahead.
FOR MIT STAFF
Reducing the density of the campus population is a public health measure intended not only to protect our students but to reduce risk for those of us who remain here, including our dedicated staff.
I ask that all of you begin to work with your supervisors to experiment with changes your unit could make to increase social distancing. While more detailed guidance for staff will be forthcoming, our aim is to ensure the safety of the whole community, particularly those who may fall into categories of greater risk; we ask that supervisors be flexible, adaptable and sensitive to conditions in each unit. In case working remotely ultimately becomes necessary, all units should start planning to make that broadly feasible.
For now, MIT operations will continue as normal, and staff should report to work unless they are sick.
If you feel sick, it is of the utmost importance that you stay home!
If you have an underlying medical condition or vulnerability, please discuss the risks with your healthcare providers.
We also ask that supervisors consider evolving conditions in the wider community that staff may have to contend with, including sick family members, school closures and other potential effects of Covid-19.
FOR MIT STUDENTS
Undergraduates who live on campus must begin packing and moving out of their residences by this Saturday, March 14. This also applies to students in our FSILGs. You will be required to leave by noon on Tuesday, March 17. For first-years, sophomores and juniors: Please pack your belongings and make plans to travel home or to another location off-campus as if you do not expect to return here until the fall semester.
For students poised to graduate: Please pack as if you will not return to MIT for classes. No decision has yet been made about this year's Commencement ceremonies.
To help you cope with the sudden new challenge, we will be assisting the residence halls to make sure you have ample boxes for packing, bins for moving belongings, dumpsters for disposing of trash and options for storage. We will also help the FSILGs handle this process, and they should work closely with their alumni corporations and the FSILG office. You will receive more detail in the coming days about move-out resources and procedures.
PERMISSION FOR UNDERGRADUATES TO REMAIN ON CAMPUS
We will consider limited exceptions to allow certain undergraduate students to remain on campus. However, to remain, you must receive official permission. Students will receive direct communications about this in a follow-up email.
We will review such requests case by case, and as soon as possible.
Exceptions may include:
- International students who have concerns that they would not be allowed to return to MIT due to visa issues.
- International students who will have difficulty returning to their home country if it has been hard-hit by Covid-19.
- Students who do not have a home to go to, or for whom going home would be unsafe given the circumstances of their home country or home life.
We understand that being asked to leave campus may pose a serious financial hardship for certain individuals. Students will receive a follow-up communication on this matter.
Please note: Any student who is permitted to stay may be required to relocate to another building on campus.
Because most graduate students live in apartments – as opposed to dorm-style living with shared facilities – we are not requiring graduate students to move off campus. However, if your individual living circumstances present a higher risk, we may relocate you elsewhere on campus. Graduate Resident Advisors (GRAs) will not be asked to leave campus.
As with MIT staff, we ask that all research groups take steps to increase social distancing in the workplace, without departing from normal Institute and departmental lab safety procedures.
Graduate students who can work remotely and who can arrange another place to live away from campus are strongly encouraged to do so.
For now, dining operations will continue with some slight modifications. Self-service stations will be closed; stations will be full service or offered as grab and go.
We will hold classes as scheduled this week; lectures with more than 150 students will go online as of today.
Over these few days, we encourage all faculty and instructors to begin preparing for and experimenting with online and remote learning if possible. If you teach a class that is large, though under the 150-person limit, we ask that you be flexible in your attendance policies.
All classes will resume in an online/remote format on Monday, March 30, and continue to the normally scheduled end of the term, including finals.
We are developing plans for the timing of any final assignments and exams for first half-term subjects that were scheduled for the week of March 16–20.
We will share more details as soon as we can.
It is painful to impose this intense disruption on the normal rhythms of MIT, but the arrival of spring break offers the best opportunity to act. I am deeply grateful to all of you for your cooperation, and especially to the many people across our community who are working around the clock on our Covid-19 response.
We will continue to share as much new information as possible, as soon as we can, both centrally and through more local communications. As of tomorrow, all the latest MIT updates related to Covid-19 will be available at mit.edu/covid19/.
Please take care of yourselves and of each other, as we strive to take care of you all.
L. Rafael Reif