Dear members of our Stanford community,

We are sending this weekend email to convey an unfortunate but important change in our undergraduate plans for the winter quarter.

After assessing the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases, the lengthening public health restrictions we are under, and how those restrictions likely will affect the on-campus undergraduate experience this quarter, we will not be able to have the frosh and sophomore classes return to campus for the winter quarter, as we had hoped.

Much has changed since early December, when we last updated you on our plans for the quarter. COVID-19 cases in California have skyrocketed. We are now at the worst point of the pandemic so far. Health officials said this week that before Thanksgiving, each day there were 4-5 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population here in Santa Clara County. Recently, it has been approximately 50 cases per 100,000 population – a tenfold increase.

The surge has strained hospitals, leading to alarmingly low capacity in intensive-care units in the Bay Area and most of California and triggering state-mandated stay-at-home orders. Stanford’s hospital is now caring for its largest number of COVID-19 patients during the pandemic, including patients transferred from hospitals in other hard-hit parts of California.

Amid these circumstances we have proceeded very cautiously as, in the past week, we have welcomed back graduate and professional students, as well as undergraduates with approved special circumstances. The health and safety of our community are, and must be, our top priority. Our expanded student testing program, along with our on-campus safety protocols, are aimed at supporting this critical objective of community health.

However, the worsening COVID-19 circumstances have now eroded our expectations about the experience we could deliver to undergraduates in the winter months. California and Santa Clara County have stringent public health restrictions tied to COVID-19 caseloads. When we carefully evaluated the situation in early December, we estimated that after a two-week arrival delay and a further two-week period of restricted activity, the likely relaxation of public health rules would start to allow more in-person activities, which would make it worthwhile for our frosh and sophomore classes to be on campus.

Now, the modeling based on the most recent data available to us suggests it is unlikely that our county will be able to move out of California’s highest-risk COVID-19 “purple” tier until late in the winter quarter. That means many restrictions are likely to persist for most of the quarter. Without the ability to expand opportunities for in-person social and academic interaction to the extent we had anticipated, we do not believe we will be able to offer the kind of engaging on-campus student experience that would warrant bringing back the frosh and sophomore classes in their entirety.

We deeply regret having to change plans. We have concluded that doing so is in the best interest of students and our community, though we know many students will be disappointed. We wanted to share this information now, with winter quarter beginning Monday and many students in the frosh and sophomore classes planning to travel to campus two weeks from now.

What is next? Here are some key points:

  • Classes and student support services will continue to be fully available online, as they were in the fall. The academic continuity team will reach out to instructors who may be impacted by the change to make any adjustments needed.
  • All undergraduates with approved special circumstances, and undergraduate RAs, can continue to be in residence on campus.
  • Since some frosh and sophomores may not have applied to be in residence on the basis of a special circumstance, we will offer a new application period for those students who have not previously applied. Application information is available on a new frequently asked questions web page, referenced below.
  • This Sunday’s online Winter Convocation for frosh will still occur at 4 p.m. Pacific time, but the Residence Welcomes and House Meetings later in the day will be canceled.
  • We are still planning, in our four-quarter academic year, to invite frosh and sophomores to be on campus for the summer quarter, assuming conditions allow. More information will be provided as soon as it is available.
  • A set of frequently asked questions about the above issues, as well as billing, financial aid and other questions that may be on your minds, has been posted for reference.

To the undergraduate and graduate students who are with us on campus, our commitment to you is undiminished. The university will continue to be in touch with you about the public health situation, and about what may be possible on campus as this quarter progresses. While we saw increased positive cases in our student testing programs this past week as students arrived on campus, we are confident that, with your partnership, we will be able to provide a safe and supportive environment on campus.

And to all students, wherever you are, the faculty and staff of Stanford University continue to be here to support your academic progress and personal wellbeing. We are still in very challenging days, but with the approach of COVID-19 vaccines for wider distribution, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for your courage and patience on this most unusual journey together.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne

Persis Drell