Dear Faculty Colleagues,

We are writing to update you on the university’s plans for the upcoming academic year – a year that will be unlike any other in Duke’s history.

First, though, we want to again thank you all for your incredibly valuable work over these past few months.  You have met the many challenges that we have all confronted with creativity and determination, and we deeply appreciate—as we know our students also appreciate—your commitment to Duke and our educational, research, and service missions.

As it has from the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the safety of our faculty, staff, students, and the Durham community has been our paramount priority and will always drive our decisions and actions.  Countless members of the Duke faculty and staff have been working around the clock for the past several months to get our university ready to deliver on our missions safely.  Already we have reopened – deliberately, thoughtfully and safely – numerous research laboratories and clinical practices, bringing several thousand faculty, staff, and graduate students back to campus with new safety practices; and we are being informed every day by these experiences and will make continuous modifications and improvements.

We are still on track to make final decisions by the end of June about many details regarding the upcoming academic year.  But we can provide the following information now and ask for your assistance and engagement to prepare for the coming year.  This information was developed in consultation with a variety of ad-hoc faculty working groups, through the Team 2021 coordinating group that has been meeting regularly since April, and was shared and discussed with academic leaders across our schools, with the Academic Council on Thursday, and with the Academic Programs Committee on Friday.

Our goal is to have as many students who are able and willing to attend on campus for the fall semester, but only if it can be done safely.  We are working with our faculty and academic leaders to prepare a dynamic and flexible educational experience, and with medical and public health experts, as well as with specialists in residential and classroom facilities, food service, sanitation and behavior to reinvent our living and learning spaces and adapt to the new realities that we will confront in all aspects of our lives.  Our policies and procedures are under careful development, and final protocols will align with the latest and most reliable scientific information, experience, and local, state, and federal guidelines.  We are planning at this point to put the following changes and policies in place:

  • All members of the Duke community will be required to wear masks in classroom and public settings and practice physical distancing as mandated by local law and university policy.
  • All students living on campus will be tested for COVID-19 before they are permitted to begin classes and will have to observe the testing, contact tracing, and quarantine protocols established by the Duke, Durham County, and the State of North Carolina should they become ill or exposed to COVID-19.
  • All faculty, students and staff will have to complete daily health checks through a monitoring app and report concerning symptoms to Student Health and Wellness or employee health, as appropriate.
  • All students, unless on approved travel, will be expected to remain in the Durham area during the semester.
  • While many co-curricular and extra-curricular activities (lectures, performances, club activities,  events) will be held virtually, there will be opportunities for in-person gatherings that meet university and public health guidelines.
  • On-campus dining venues will provide additional take-out options and limited in-person service using reservation systems.
  • Student, faculty, staff, and visitor access to campus facilities will be restricted and new guidelines on space configuration, capacity, traffic flow, cleaning and sanitation protocols will be in place.

We take each of these commitments seriously at all levels.  For students, failure to adhere to these guidelines will be grounds for disciplinary and other actions necessary to protect the health and safety of the Duke community.

Our academic calendar will change to maximize the time on campus, to facilitate our ability to clean and disinfect campus facilities, and to minimize the disruptions and potential health hazards of travel during the semester.  Fall semester classes for undergraduates will begin a week earlier than originally planned, on Monday, August 17, and final exams will conclude before Thanksgiving.  There will not be a Fall Break in 2020.  The spring semester will begin a week later than normal, on Tuesday, January 19, and final exams will be held the week of April 26. Commencement for the class of 2021 will take place on Sunday, May 9.  There will be no Spring Break in 2021.  Graduate school-based programs will largely follow the same calendar; professional programs are being planned separately and will announce specific planning as it is completed.

No faculty will be required to teach on campus if they have concerns about their health and safety.  Nor will any faculty have to disclose their personal health concerns.

All Duke courses will be offered in one of several formats to ensure inclusivity and adaptability. In-person instruction, conducted in classrooms on the Duke campus will be coupled with online versions to facilitate remote student inclusion. Fully online courses will be offered that take advantage of the best pedagogical support and technology available to Duke.  It is critical that our courses are as inclusive as possible, particularly considering that many students may be unable to join us on campus.  Accordingly, all in-person classes will also have an online version so that students who cannot be on campus, or who have to be quarantined or return home, will still be able to take the course without interruption.

Classroom space will be limited by new requirements for physical distancing, cleaning, building access, and capacity. We expect to use a number of atypical venues, including theaters, conference and commons rooms, studios, and tents.  But even with those new spaces, we will not be able to accommodate large lecture classes, which will have to be organized into smaller sections or restructured into flipped or hybrid courses. We will also have a new course schedule to ensure that we are able to clean and disinfect our classrooms and manage the flow of pedestrian traffic across campus.

The changes in the academic calendar and classroom space mean that faculty and schools will need to revise their course schedules, and students will need to re-register for the fall semester.  The university will provide the calendar framework (classroom space and daily timeslots) by June 4 and ask that the new schedule be submitted by the schools by June 19. In supplying departments and schools with the revised schedules, we will attempt to provide options that are as closely aligned with existing plans as possible.  Detailed decisions on curricula and courses will be made locally; we expect and want departments and schools to optimize decisions about what gets taught, by whom, and when.

Robust support is available to assist faculty and departments in adjusting their courses for these new delivery formats. In the coming days, we will share information about a new online resource that will help you re-shape your courses — whether seminars, mid-sizes, or large lectures — using the best available evidence-based pedagogical recommendations. In addition, our colleagues at Duke Learning Innovation have prepared multiple tiers of support to help faculty apply course design principles for the full range of course types offered by our faculty. They will be offering online course design guidance, a regular series of workshops, and instructional design consultations for particular courses.

Finally, and it bears repeating, all of this is subject to change based on medical advice, local conditions and laws, and variables that may not even be known to us today.  Such is the nature of life in and after a pandemic.

But regardless of the circumstances, we know we will get through this.  It won’t be easy, and it won’t look anything like we’re used to experiencing.  But we’ll get through it because our people—faculty, students, staff, families and friends — are thoughtful, collaborative, creative, adaptable, and committed to excellence. We will get through it because we are Duke.

Thanks again for all of the many ways you are advancing our university’s important work through these challenging times. And please accept our very best wishes for your health and safety.


Vincent E. Price

Sally A. Kornbluth