July 26, 2020

To the Duke Community,

I am writing to provide an update on Duke’s plans for the Fall 2020 semester and to inform you of some important and necessary changes.

At the end of June, we reported that Duke was on track to reopen safely for the Fall 2020 semester with a significant number of residential students. We also said that we would continue to closely monitor local and national trends and modify our plans as necessary, based on public health considerations and our ability to protect the health and safety of Duke students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community.  

It is sadly clear that the persistence and spread of COVID-19 are trending in the wrong direction nationally, in North Carolina, and in Durham; and based on the latest guidance from Duke medical experts and public officials, we anticipate that matters may worsen in the weeks ahead. In light of these worrisome conditions and to address the increased prevalence of the coronavirus, we must further reduce the density of our campus residential population. 

Thus, we have made the very difficult decision to decrease the on-campus residential population by about 30 percent to ensure that we can provide care, support, and a safe and healthy environment for our students, faculty, and staff.  To achieve the necessary reduced density, Duke campus housing for the Fall 2020 semester will now be limited to first-year students, sophomores, and those students who have specific needs for campus housing because of their personal or academic situations and who have been approved through the process that will be available on Monday, July 27 at noon EDT at http://keeplearning.duke.edu.

Juniors and seniors who had planned to live in Duke campus housing will have the option of participating in the same Duke-quality remote-learning experience that will be available to all students who are not able to come to campus or live in the Durham area this fall, and will have first priority for campus housing in the spring. 

Our plans for the spring semester remain tentative and will be based on the continuing course of the pandemic, medical guidance, prevailing local and national conditions, and our ability to conduct a safe and successful fall semester. We expect to be able to provide campus housing to all juniors and seniors who desire it. Should conditions improve to the point that we can safely expand the number of residential students, we will include first-year students and sophomores as well. We are also making plans to expand our residential summer sessions next year to provide a full on-campus experience for those students who are not able to, or choose not to, attend Duke in Durham in either the Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 semesters.  

Graduate and professional schools are also reviewing their plans for the Fall 2020 semester to reduce campus density and will be contacting students directly with specific guidance about their programs.

We have already created a suite of courses that include in-person, online and hybrid instruction to optimize opportunities for students both near and far, and to maximize safety for students and faculty. With ample, high-quality remote course opportunities, students with concerns about traveling to or about living in Durham, or who would prefer to wait for a more traditional on-campus experience, may well find it desirable to take part in the virtual Duke experience, which will be a rich one. 

While students who live off-campus will be able to attend classes and will have very limited access to campus facilities for academic purposes, it is likely that all students, regardless of their location, will complete much of their course work remotely.  Our on-campus co-curricular and extra-curricular activities will likewise be significantly limited this semester.

We are also expanding our COVID-19 testing program. In addition to initial testing for all returning students (undergraduate, graduate and professional, whether residing on or off campus), we are also implementing regular pooled community testing to identify and address any potential outbreaks among students, as well as faculty and staff who have frequent contact with students. We also have a robust system of daily symptom monitoring and follow up diagnostic testing for all students, faculty, and staff.

I want to reiterate that the on-campus experience this year will be dramatically different than in the past: 

  • All classes will be offered in a variety of formats, including in-person (with online backup), online-only and hybrid online-in person. Our faculty have been working intensely over the past several months to develop rich and innovative online courses that will take full advantage of state-of-the-art interactive technologies and will be accessible to students anywhere in the world.
  • In addition to the comprehensive testing protocol described above, we have a contact tracing program that will be required for all students, along with enhanced capabilities for Student Health in partnership with Duke Health’s world-class hospitals and clinics, quarantine spaces, and increased support services.
  • Campus facilities have been reconfigured to promote physical distancing and enhanced cleaning and hygiene protocols. For the safety of all, there will be no public events or visitors permitted in campus buildings and residences, and access to campus buildings will be very limited for all students.
  • All members of the Duke community – students, faculty, and staff – will have to commit to The Duke Compact and agree to wear face coverings in any public setting, track and report symptoms through the designated app, avoid large gatherings, get a seasonal flu shot, and observe health and travel restrictions to protect each other and the most vulnerable members of our community.

More information regarding the Fall 2020 semester at Duke is available at https://returnto.duke.edu. 

This change in plans is deeply disappointing for all of us. The connections we make and the ideas we create when we are together in classrooms, commons rooms, and across campus are what make Duke such an extraordinary place, and it will be difficult to have those experiences so significantly curtailed and constrained this fall.

At the same time, the challenges we face together are temporary, and we are working to ensure both that the Duke experience we are offering this fall lives up to our extraordinary potential and that the Duke of years to come is an even stronger, more vibrant community. 

I am so very grateful for your flexibility and commitment as we rise to meet this unprecedented moment for higher education, and I have never been prouder to be a part of the Duke family.


Vincent E. Price