Dear Brown Community,

As we enter the midpoint of the fall semester, Brown is formalizing plans for the spring term. A short while ago, I shared with undergraduate students the decision to allow a larger number of undergraduates to return to campus for an in-person residential experience in Spring 2021, while still maintaining a campus that is less dense than in a typical year. We are maintaining our commitment to single rooms in residence halls and limiting in-person class sizes to 19 students. Also, students who choose to study remotely can continue to do so, or they may opt to study in the summer term.

This reflects the planning for the academic year announced last July, which was contingent on public health conditions. The full text of my communication to undergraduates is appended at the end of this letter, outlining the principles underlying the decision to move forward with this plan.

We continue to be guided by our commitment to keep members of our community as safe as possible, continue to support outstanding educational experiences, and provide students with as much choice and flexibility as is practicable. Our success maintaining very low infection rates among students, faculty and staff, even as rates increase across the country, gives us the confidence that it is possible to safely increase density on campus.

As we prepare for the spring semester, I want to share relevant planning points for faculty, staff, and graduate and medical students. But first, it’s important to stress that the success the University has experienced in adapting to a three-term academic year and managing the significant impact of navigating a global health crisis is thanks to the extraordinary commitment of members of this community. All who work and study at Brown have been called upon since March to approach their work with creativity and ingenuity, and so many have risen to the challenge in exceptional ways. For this, I am deeply grateful.

Welcoming a larger population of students in the spring term will now require some reassessment of operations for the months ahead. As we have approached the decision regarding the spring term, we have considered both how many undergraduate students we can safely accommodate and support studying in-person overall, and how many we can house and support in residence halls and off-campus leased housing. The impact on academic and various other operations may require a shift in procedures in some academic and administrative offices and departments across campus.

This letter outlines the following areas for planning consideration:

  1. On-campus designations and testing
  2. Telecommuting
  3. Graduate student access to campus
  4. Medical student academic calendar
  5.  The need for continued flexibility

1. On-campus designations and testing

If your duties are changing in the spring semester, your on-campus designation may also change, requiring you to either limit your time on campus, or report for more frequent COVID-19 testing. Department leaders should review staff job assignments to confirm that on-campus and remote-work assignments are still valid in accordance with health and safety guidelines in the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy. The policy provides procedural guidance to academic and administrative department leaders who must continue to assess staffing levels to maintain University operations. Supervisors will need to inform employees as soon as possible of approved designation changes, so staff members can manage caregiving or other responsibilities. For additional guidance, department leaders can access the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy and Guidance for Telecommuting, as well as additional Resources and Tips on the University Human Resources page.

2. Telecommuting

After the Winter Break period, faculty and staff will work in accordance with their “essential” work designations — whether that is working remotely, in-person or a mix of remote and onsite — and as assigned by supervisors in alignment with any approved Return to Campus plans. Recognizing that many departments and offices increasingly have employees with a range of remote and onsite designations as part of the gradual resumption of on-campus operations, we know that a campus-wide telecommuting designation for employees no longer applies.

To the extent possible, faculty and staff who can work from home — in full or in part as determined by their supervisor — will continue to do so after Winter Break. Others with a compelling need to return to campus (for instance, in support of the increase in the number of students who will be returning to campus) will do so under a Return to Campus Plan.

3. Graduate student access to campus

We want to remind doctoral and MFA students that you should continue to notify your program if your location or need to access campus changes. For all other masters students, updates to your location can continue to be made by updating the Fall 2020 Masters Student Location Form. The Division of Campus Life will send information in the coming weeks regarding a Location of Study Form that all graduate students will need to complete for the spring term.

Please also note the following:

  • Graduate students will continue to have the option to enroll in coursework in a remote or hybrid format. Pending new federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance, we recommend that first-year international graduate students enroll in at least one hybrid course during the spring semester.
  • Graduate student instructors may choose to teach in an entirely online format in the spring and the summer terms.
  • Graduate students with approved research activities will continue to follow research continuity guidelines.

The Graduate School will send a message to graduate students next week with travel policy and other reminders, event information and spring course registration details.

4. Medical student academic calendar

Medical students and the Warren Alpert Medical School community will continue to hear directly from deans about changes in schedules and operations. Please note that the academic calendar may continue to vary for the various classes of medical students.

5. The need for continued flexibility

Finally, while our experience preventing the spread of COVID-19 on campus continues to go well, Rhode Island is experiencing a steady and concerning increase in test positivity rates. We will continue to closely monitor the evolving public health situation in the coming months, and the University will change its plans for the spring semester if needed.

University travel, events and other activities will continue to be guided by the current Campus Activity Level. For the well-being of our campus community and neighbors in Providence, it’s important that every member of our community remains vigilant in practicing health protocols. We expect restrictions for travel, visitors and large gatherings will remain in place into the spring term.

I know that this pandemic continues to affect so many in our community professionally and personally, and I look forward to the time when these challenging moments are behind us.

Stay safe and well,

Christina H. Paxson



Dear Brown Undergraduate Students,

I hope all of you and your families are healthy and well. I know many of you are eager to know about Brown’s plans for the spring semester, and I am writing to share our current planning, even as we recognize the evolving nature of the COVID-19 public health crisis. Our plans are driven by our commitment to keep members of our community as safe as possible, continue to support outstanding educational experiences, and provide students with as much choice and flexibility as is practicable.

In keeping with these principles, we are planning to offer an in-person residential experience in Spring 2021. Our goal is to allow a larger number of undergraduate students to return to campus, while ensuring that students who choose to study remotely can do so. At the same time, faculty with health or other concerns will continue to have the option to teach, mentor and advise students online in the spring.

We know that the nation is at a precarious point in the pandemic. Rates of infection are increasing in the majority of states in the country, including Rhode Island, and quarantine and travel restrictions are becoming tighter. We are also aware of the serious concerns being expressed by public health officials about the potential for a large wave of illness (which could involve both COVID-19 and influenza) as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors. It is impossible, at this point, to accurately predict what the health situation will be in mid-January, when the spring term begins.

Despite this challenging national picture, Brown is very fortunate to be faring well. Infection rates among students, faculty and staff are low, and twice-weekly testing for all undergraduate students, rapid contact tracing, and good adherence to public health measures like mask-wearing and hand-washing have greatly minimized the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

The success of public health interventions to date allows us to proceed with welcoming students from each undergraduate class — juniors and seniors, as well as first-years and sophomores — back to campus in the spring term of this year’s three-semester model. This model was established with the goal of providing two residential semesters for students who choose to study in the Providence area, as long as we can do it safely.

Unfortunately, however, there are several limitations to fully exercising this model given current realities, and it may be that not all students who want to study in Providence this spring will be able to do so. One limiting factor is the number of rooms available in Brown’s residence halls. We feel it is important that all students in residence halls have single-occupancy rooms. This is less to do with concerns about public health — since a number of universities and colleges have kept infection rates low while still putting students into doubles — and more to do with the need for students to have quiet, private spaces to study and take courses that are offered remotely. Our decision to continue with singles means we may not be able to accommodate all students who want to live on campus for the spring term.

Another limiting factor is that the number of apartments available in proximity to the campus is very low, which may make it difficult for Brown to expand its housing opportunities by leasing additional apartments for students, and for juniors and seniors to find off-campus housing.

Finally, the need for continued social distancing in libraries, classrooms and public spaces on campus limits the total number of students who can return to Providence, regardless of whether they live on or off campus. What we call the “spring term” actually begins in winter, and it will be important to ensure that the campus can safely accommodate students’ needs in indoor spaces.

Planning Principles

The following principles will define the options available to students in Spring 2021:

  • All currently enrolled students will have the option to maintain their fall location of study, though many students living on campus will need to relocate to a different room assignment in the spring.
  • All students will have the option to study remotely (defined as outside of the Providence area).
  • All first-year students will have the option to live on campus in Brown residence halls.
  • All juniors and seniors will have the option to live off campus in the Providence area without requiring off-campus permission.
  • First-years and sophomores are not eligible for off-campus permission, and may not live off campus in the Providence area.
  • Seniors currently studying remotely will have the option to live on campus in Brown-owned or Brown-leased housing.
  • In addition, the following students will have the option to live on campus in Brown-owned or -leased housing:
    • a)     Residential Peer Leaders (RPLs) currently serving remotely who will be able to support the expanded residential community on campus in the spring;
    • b)     Students who live in unsafe environments, who are returning from a medical leave, and those with other exceptional circumstances;
    • c)     International students for whom studying remotely will cause hardship due to travel restrictions, visas or access to employment training programs in the United States.
  • All students studying remotely or returning from personal leaves may request to live on campus in Brown-owned or -leased housing. However, in the event that more students request to live on campus than space permits, we will use a lottery with preferences in the following order:
    • a)     Juniors who are currently studying remotely
    • b)     Sophomores who are currently studying remotely
    • c)     Seniors who are currently taking a personal leave
    • d)     Juniors who are currently taking a personal leave
    • e)     Sophomores who are currently taking a personal leave

The principles above highlight the options for the spring semester. Please consult the detailed housing information posted on A chart located there provides an at-a-glance view of the location of study options.

As noted before, all students will have the option of two residential semesters this year, and students who choose to take a personal leave this spring will have the option of returning to live on campus this summer, which is a wonderful time of year to be in Rhode Island. In addition, any first-year students who elect to study remotely outside of the Providence area this spring will have the option to move into on-campus housing this summer.

Spring Location of Study Form

It is critically important for all students to complete their Spring Location of Study Form in a timely fashion, because the University will rely on this information to make housing assignments. Incoming first-year students should have already submitted their spring location of study. All currently enrolled students and those who have requested to return from personal leave will receive a message early next week with a link to their Spring 2021 Location of Study Forms. This form must be submitted no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, Nov. 8. The personalized forms will display the options that are available to you based on class year and current location of study.

Once we learn how many students want to live on campus, we will develop plans that involve residence halls, off-campus apartments leased by Brown, and (possibly) hotel rooms, with the goal of bringing back as many students as we can safely accommodate from among those who wish to study in-person in the spring.

It is possible there may be more students who wish to live in Brown-owned or -leased housing in the spring term than can be accommodated; therefore, students who currently live off campus or as a commuter in the Providence area are not eligible for on-campus housing in the spring. If demand for Brown housing exceeds available rooms, we will implement a lottery — based on the priorities above — and will maintain a waiting list based on lottery number. There will be no exceptions made to lottery-based Brown housing assignments.

Students with questions about location of study should email [email protected].

On-Campus Preparations for Spring

In order to welcome a larger number of students to campus, and to devote more central residences to first-years as they learn to navigate Brown, students living on campus this fall should be prepared to vacate their fall assignment and receive a new housing assignment for spring. The Office of Residential Life will communicate with students about whether they will need to relocate when more information is known following the submission of students’ Spring Location of Study Forms.


We hope that all students who wish to return in the spring will be able to do so, and we look forward to a safe and healthy spring term together. It’s important to note that the success Brown has experienced thus far in maintaining the safety and well-being  of our community during this global health crisis is in large part thanks to the vigilance and extraordinary commitment you have demonstrated. For this, I am deeply grateful.

To realize our goals for a healthy spring term, we must persist in sharing the responsibility of caring for each other and our neighbors in Providence. The requirements within the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy we currently have in place will continue as we move into the next semester. That will mean mask-wearing, social distancing and testing for the coronavirus at least twice a week for all undergraduates. Classes of more than 19 students will be conducted remotely, and we expect many if not all of the restrictions currently in place on campus to continue.

Students who live in Brown-owned or -leased off-campus housing in Spring 2021 will again be required to observe a 14-day “Quiet Period” upon arrival for study at Brown. This includes a period of time when students will be expected to remain in their residence halls except to get COVID-19 tests, receive care from Health Services by appointment or to pick up grab-and-go dining hall meals. I encourage you and your families to make informed decisions with all of this in mind as you consider what is best for you in the spring term.

As has been the case throughout this pandemic, it’s important to note that Brown’s planning is based on current public health circumstances and guidance from health experts. There is still significant uncertainty about how the COVID-19 pandemic will evolve across regions of the country and the world in the coming months. Please understand the need for flexibility, as we may need to make changes to the plans outlined in this letter. Our top priority is safeguarding the health and well-being of our community while continuing to deliver an exceptional educational experience.


Christina H. Paxson