Office of the President

Brandeis’ Plans for the Fall Semester

June 30, 2020

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,

Today, I am writing to share with you Brandeis' plans for the fall 2020 semester. These plans, which include rigorous health and safety measures to mitigate the risk of on-campus infection, will guide our university's operations through the fall term. Although the upcoming semester will look unlike any other in our institution's 72-year history, I am confident that our plans will enable the Brandeis community to work, teach, and learn safely in the face of the risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this message, I will provide a high-level summary of our fall plans. I encourage you to review our Plans for Fall 2020 at Brandeis website and our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages for more school-specific information, and for answers to many questions that you might have. As I note in more detail below, even as we announce these plans today, we must be prepared to change course in the case that infection rates begin to rise in Massachusetts, state guidelines and regulations change, or other unpredictable circumstances emerge. In the coming weeks, we will continue to update this website and the FAQs with more details about the fall semester.

Flexible Academic Instruction

Our residential campus will be open to students, faculty, and staff when undergraduate and graduate classes begin on August 26. For undergraduates, we will hold the majority of courses online, with the opportunity for in-person elements of those courses for students who live on or near campus. Select courses will occur primarily in person. We will share more information about the particular method of instruction for each of our fall classes to be offered in our course catalog, which will be available by mid-July.

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, the International Business School, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will shift to primarily online teaching and operations for the fall 2020 semester—although certain courses such as laboratory sciences and studio art will be held on campus to the greatest extent practicable. To support this mode of teaching and learning and to build community, each school is also developing a rich, engaging set of out-of-class, co-curricular experiences. More details about fall graduate instruction will be provided directly to students in each school by their program director, and you can find a summary of the schools' plans here.

As previously announced, Brandeis will begin undergraduate and graduate classes on Wednesday, August 26, 2020—one week earlier than originally planned. The last day of in-person instruction will be Friday, November 20. There will be an extended Thanksgiving break from Monday, November 23, to Friday, November 27, and classes will finish by December 3. All post-Thanksgiving academic activities, including the last week of instruction, study days, and the final examination period, will be online. Students living on campus who can go home will be asked to leave their residence halls during the Thanksgiving break and not return to campus until the start of the spring term. We recognize that there may be students who have extenuating circumstances that may require them to remain on campus after the Thanksgiving break; we will do our best to accommodate these needs.

Health and Safety Measures

Since Brandeis transitioned to emergency online instruction and campus operations in mid-March, all of our reopening planning, which began on May 26 with the scaling back up of our science research labs, has been guided by consultations with local public health experts and established medical best practices. We are excited to welcome additional students, faculty, and staff back to the Brandeis campus in the fall. At the same time, we know that, without an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, we cannot eliminate the risk of infection and need to introduce some strict protocols to reduce the risk of spreading infection within the broader Brandeis and Waltham communities. Our goal is to reduce that risk as much as possible through a set of rigorous health and safety measures.

Beyond the redesign of academic instruction for the fall term, Brandeis is taking several additional steps to prevent the spread of infection. These include: 

  • Changes to Residential Life. All incoming first-year students will be housed in single rooms in the fall semester, and all returning students who already have housing contracts will be guaranteed housing. Some returning students with housing contracts may be offered alternative room assignments so that all students can live in single rooms. Students with a housing contract will have the option to be released from their contracts with no penalty if they prefer alternative arrangements. First-year students whose address of record is in the Greater Boston area will be permitted to live at home during the fall semester and commute to campus if they so choose. The Department of Community Living will contact all students with pre-existing contracts immediately following this announcement with more information about their specific housing assignment.

  • High-Frequency, Universal Testing. Brandeis will provide high-frequency, mandatory COVID-19 testing to all on-campus community members through a program led by the Broad Institute. All students living in campus residence halls will be tested upon their arrival to campus, and students living off-campus will be tested at a designated time before the start of the fall term. There will also be mandatory testing multiple times per month for all students, faculty, and staff who either live on campus or who come to campus several times per week, whether or not they are symptomatic. This will enable us to quickly identify and contain any instances of infection on our campus. Those coming to campus less frequently will also be tested, though not as frequently.

  • Public Health Protocols. The university will institute several public health measures, including requiring daily symptom monitoring and mandatory face mask/covering, providing public hand-sanitizing stations, introducing enhanced cleaning protocols for all university facilities, and implementing mandatory physical distancing. You can find more information about the steps we are taking to ensure campus health and safety here.

Once the fall semester begins, Brandeis will also implement rigorous self-quarantine procedures for any student who lives on campus and is identified through our contact tracing as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The university will also provide support from our health center and from DCL for any student residing on campus who requires isolation because they have tested positive for COVID-19.

Even as we implement these public health measures, we will continue to monitor daily guidance from experts in the health professions, the Massachusetts Department of Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure that our plans are responsive to emerging best practices and new information we learn about the virus. While demanding, these measures are necessary to mitigate the risk of infection and protect the health and safety of our community members as operations scale up on our campus.

Even with these rigorous public health policies and procedures in place, as we have learned in the past five months of the COVID-19 pandemic, individual behavioral changes will be the most important determining factor in the success of our fall 2020 plans. The more we can exercise social solidarity and wear a mask or face covering at all times while on campus (both indoors and outdoors), practice physical distancing, and follow CDC handwashing and hygiene recommendations, the more significantly we will reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in our community. We will ask all individuals who return to campus, including students, faculty, and staff, to sign a community commitment to follow our public health protocols.

Tuition and Fees

Brandeis University remains committed to ensuring that students, regardless of financial need, can succeed as members of our community. A socioeconomically diverse student body requires significant financial support, and we recognize that many families’ financial needs have likely changed as a result of the pandemic.

Therefore, for the 2020-2021 academic year, there will be no increase in undergraduate or graduate tuition, room, and board. Unlike in past years, there will be no lab or studio art fees. We will continue to meet the full demonstrated financial need of our students as calculated by the Office of Student Financial Services and have set aside additional financial aid funding for the upcoming academic year. We urge those students and families whose financial situations have recently changed to immediately contact Student Financial Services so that their financial aid packages can be reviewed and revised appropriately.

Additional information about tuition and cost of attendance for the 2020-2021 academic year can be found on the undergraduate student FAQ page.

Looking Ahead

I am sure that you still have many questions about the upcoming semester. As I noted at the beginning of this message, I encourage you to review our Plans for Fall 2020 at Brandeis website and our FAQ pages for more detailed information relating to our fall plans. Specifically, we have FAQ and general guidance pages tailored to specific communities and subject areas, including:

If you have any questions that these FAQ pages do not answer, please use this form on the Plans for Fall 2020 at Brandeis website to submit additional questions.

Even as we release these comprehensive plans for the fall, there is still a lot that we do not know—both about the trajectory of the virus and about some of the specifics of our fall plans. And even with such rigorous guidelines and procedures in place, we know that our plans will need to evolve in the coming months in response to public health guidelines and changing Massachusetts regulations. All of us must be prepared to pivot, both before and after classes begin, in the case that infection rates begin to rise in the commonwealth, state guidelines and regulations change, or other unpredictable circumstances emerge. Throughout the upcoming semester, flexibility and solidarity within our community will be critical in ensuring the success of our plans—and the health and safety of our community. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has required us to make plans with incomplete information. As we continue to learn more and respond to new developments in the coming months, my senior team and I are deeply committed to continuing to make decisions based on public health best practices and expert advice. We will continue to communicate and consult regularly with all members of the Brandeis community, and to provide students, families, faculty, and staff with regular opportunities to share with us what is working and what isn't.  

I invite you to join me and my senior administrative colleagues for several online community check-ins in the coming days. These events will be live-streamed at They will also be recorded and made available for review in case you are unable to attend. Graduate students will be receiving additional information from their respective schools regarding opportunities for discussion.

  • Our next community check-in for undergraduate students and families will take place on Tuesday, July 7, from noon-1:00 p.m.

  • Our next community check-in for faculty and staff will take place on Wednesday, July 8, from noon-1:00 p.m.

I look forward to seeing you at these community check-ins to clarify our plans, answer questions you have, and to receive feedback and advice.

* * * * *

During two-plus months, more than 100 students, faculty, and staff served on the COVID-19 Task Force, co-chaired by Provost Lisa Lynch and EVP Stew Uretsky, and its eight working and advisory groups. These groups tirelessly considered every aspect of campus operations and life, and developed robust plans that will allow us to pursue our mission safely and responsibly. I know I speak for so many Brandeisians when I extend my great appreciation to these community members for their hard work and dedication to our institution.

Although the upcoming semester will require unusual levels of flexibility, patience, and understanding, I am confident our policies and protocols will allow us to experience a successful, if somewhat different, semester. For the past 72 years, Brandeis has thrived against long odds thanks to our community’s resourcefulness and intense commitment to the academic enterprise. I know we will rise to the challenges ahead and the university will emerge as a more resilient and proud institution.