Update on undergraduate planning

Provost Persis Drell and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole sent the following message to students and their families, which includes steps in the planning process for spring quarter.

Dear Stanford students,

We hope you are settling well into our winter quarter. These continue to be challenging days, as all of us work through the difficulties posed by the pandemic and the national events that the news brings us each day. We’re grateful for your fortitude, and we hope that the experience of diving back into your academic work is heartening and grounding.

We want to acknowledge one added source of stress for some of you, and that is the change in our undergraduate plans for the winter quarter that we announced on Jan. 9.

Susie Brubaker-Cole and Mona Hicks have been talking with ASSU leadership, and we all have been reviewing the helpful and heartfelt feedback that some students and family members have shared with us directly following this announcement. We made the decision and announcement based on the latest, rapidly evolving conditions and about two weeks before the frosh and sophomores affected by it would have been traveling to campus. But we’ve heard loud and clear that an earlier final decision would have been much better.

We are always seeking to improve. As such, we’re making adjustments to improve this process for the future. We want to let you know about our thinking:

  • Winter quarter: First, we want to make sure that undergraduates have seen the accommodations available for winter quarter, which are summarized here and here. The deadline to take a Leave of Absence with a full refund was extended to 5 p.m. today. Sarah Church, our vice provost for undergraduate education, has written to all instructors asking them to be flexible with changes in students’ academic plans. There is information at the links above regarding financial matters and housing. And, again, students who have approved special circumstances are welcome to continue to live on campus this quarter as scheduled.
  • Spring quarter: We in the university are trying our hardest to make it possible for our juniors and seniors to return to campus for a meaningful in-person experience. The changing path of the pandemic and shifting public health rules are what make the timing of final decisions very challenging. For the spring quarter that begins March 29, we continue to plan for juniors and seniors to be in residence, along with undergraduates with approved special circumstances. To facilitate your planning…
  • Timeline: We will provide an update the week of March 1 to confirm our plans for the spring quarter or announce adjustments. We can’t completely eliminate the possibility of a change after that if there are major changes in the public health situation, and we’ll still encourage you to make travel plans that are as flexible as possible. If we see significant risks that might lead to a reversal of the decision, we will let you know with as much specificity as possible at that time.
  • Decision criteria: The key factors for making a spring quarter decision will be: (1) The public health situation, especially including any limitations on hospital capacity at Stanford and in Santa Clara County. (2) Our ability to ensure the systems and staffing necessary to bring students back safely and to support them on-campus, recognizing the unique needs and demands brought about by the pandemic. (3) The nature of the in-person student experience we are able to offer given the public health rules that we expect to be in effect during the quarter. (As a reminder, it was a change in this third factor – our expectation about the in-person experience we would be able to deliver – that led us to reverse our plans earlier this month.)
  • Student input: We will have a robust engagement process with the ASSU as we approach the spring quarter. In addition to the meetings that already have occurred, we have agreed on an upcoming deep-dive session in which ASSU leaders will help identify issues for the spring quarter and provide input. We’ll also be asking for ASSU input on an ongoing basis as we approach the new quarter. And, we continue to invite input from students directly about your experiences and concerns. Please reach us here with your general suggestions and comments; if you have a personal question, please submit a ServiceNow ticket; and you can reach out to the ASSU at president@assu.stanford.edu or via the stanford.edu website.

This has been a hard period for students, in many ways, and we regret that the timing of the winter decision added to the challenges. We appreciate the grace and resolve with which you are meeting the circumstances before you. This also has been a hard period for the university, as we confront a situation we’ve never faced, with changing dynamics each and every day. As we learn and adjust our approaches, our firm and unchanging goal is to support your educational experience at Stanford, and to do it in the safest way possible.

Thank you for your feedback, and we assure you that we will continue to be in touch.


Persis Drell

Susie Brubaker-Cole
Vice Provost for Student Affairs