The following message was sent to the Barnard community on May 14, 2020:


Dear Members of the Barnard Community,

As we wrap up the current academic year and look forward to the next, I want to once again congratulate the spirited and strong class of 2020, and welcome the amazingly impressive Class of 2024 to Barnard.

Looking forward to the coming academic year, we know we must allow health and safety experts to learn as much as possible about the course of the pandemic before final decisions are made. This is vital to protecting our community. 

Yet that patience does not mean we are sitting idly on the sidelines. Despite the challenges we face, we are doing all in our power to make it possible to return to campus as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Along with Columbia University, we will follow our current Fall and Spring semester calendar, with classes commencing Tuesday, Sept. 8. In keeping with President Bollinger’s announcement today, we will also be adding a third Summer semester for the 2020-21 academic year. This additional semester will enhance flexibility, add to the enrollment opportunities available to our students, and maximize the opportunity for on-campus classes. By early July, we will share more information about the specifics of the year to come – including whether we plan to start classes on Sept. 8 on-line, in-person, or some combination of both.

At a deeper level, our faculty and staff are hard at work developing new and better ways to teach in these challenging and unpredictable times. Most importantly, we continue to promote one of our core values – education for the social good. Now, more than ever, we have an obligation to address the challenges of our times head-on, and to propose and evaluate solutions. Arguably, no institution is better poised than Barnard to contribute to a collective knowledge base that will inform our understanding of the causes and solutions of the current global crisis. 

To that end, I am excited to let you know that the College will devote a portion of next academic year’s curriculum to addressing the current pandemic in all its complexities and relevancies. Science informs solutions, and so does the societal and economic impact that the pandemic will have – especially on marginalized groups. Interrogating the “big problems” of this crisis from multiple perspectives will best position our students to be leading voices for change. 

This orientation toward knowledge for impact is not new to Barnard. From programs such as our Harlem and Mississippi semesters to our new Barnard Engages curriculum, our students tackle real-world challenges around economic inequality, sustainability, immigration, and more. Partnerships with community-based organizations in our classes will enhance our learning, our work, and the solutions we can offer to the world. Provost Bell will be writing soon to our incoming first-years, transfers and returning students with more information about our important focus on COVID-19 “big problems” across the next academic year.

In collaboration with the faculty, we are also exploring various options for curricular changes with the goal of ensuring maximum flexibility to maintain the health and safety of our community. These include several possible options: 

  1. Traditional semester-long classes.

  2. Intensive classes to be offered in two six-week blocks for each semester that meet more frequently and allow students the flexibility to take fewer courses in any given semester block. 

  3. A combination of both semester-long and blocked classes.

An Academic Working Group, led by Provost Linda Bell, is focused on exploring these and other possibilities. Our goal is to be able to utilize the entire academic year as fully and flexibly as possible to maximize the probability of instruction occurring on campus and to uphold the academic excellence that is the hallmark of a Barnard education.

A Return to Campus Working Group, led by Vice President for Operations Roger Mosier, is focused on laying out the various steps necessary to bring faculty, staff, and students safely back to campus. This group is navigating a myriad of issues such as how housing and dining will operate, how COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and isolation might work on our campus, how to manage the required cleaning protocols, technology needs for our classrooms, and more. We are also working closely with Columbia University, the City and New York State on these health, safety and operational issues. More information on our planning can be found on the new Barnard Planning 2020-21 webpage.

Your input is vital here as well. As such, I invite you to fill out this survey to help gauge your opinions on course delivery and campus life for the coming academic year. 

Through all we have faced this year, I have never been more impressed by the Barnard community and the support and care we have shown for each other. Together, we will continue to prevail and to thrive.

Thank you,

Sian Leah Beilock