How are Universities Responding to the Coronavirus

13/03/20206 minute read
How are Universities Responding to the Coronavirus

In the last few days, universities such as Harvard and Princeton have taken tough action against the spread of COVID-19, or Coronavirus.

As you would imagine, these institutions have gone to great lengths to try to protect their faculty and students - making the difficult decision to send students home, move to digital lectures and seminars, and do whatever they can to keep their communities safe. For insight as to how the Ivy League, Stanford, Oxford and Cambridge universities are responding to the crisis, see their updates below.

Crimson has a toolbox of resources and information that can help you navigate the impact of Covid-19.


Harvard was one of the first colleges to respond comprehensively to the outbreak, and announced many of their measures on March 10; effective until further notice. Students have been asked not to return to campus after the spring break, and students who are on campus are required to move home unless there are difficult and extenuating circumstances.

The university hopes to make a transition to online instruction by March 23, in time to resume the spring quarter. See their updates as they come in here. As part of the wider picture, the Ivy League presidents have cancelled all athletics and sports until the end of the academic year, citing that it is not feasible for practice and competition to continue. Read more about this here.


Procedures at Yale are similar to those at Harvard. Undergraduate college students shall remain at their homes after spring recess, and those who are currently on campus are being made to make every effort to return home no later than Sunday, March 15. At the end of spring break, classes will resume remotely on platforms such as Zoom and Canvas, and only those who have no option but to stay will remain on campus, and will receive a limited amount of services. These measures have been ordered to be in effect until at least April 5, after which it is uncertain. See their updates here.


Princeton’s measures are like Harvard’s, but they have also been more helpful in clarifying how long the measures will be in place. All Princeton classes, lectures, seminars, labs and precepts will move to virtual instruction beginning March 23, and will remain virtual through the end of spring 2020, including final exams. All undergraduates who are able to must return home and stay home for the rest of the semester. All students studying abroad are forced to cease their studies and return to the US, and anybody travelling for leisure have also been urged to return. Read the updates here.


Responses at UPenn have also been made for the best interests of students. Students who are away from campus have been instructed to stay away from campus, and those who are on campus have been instructed to leave from March 15th. The remainder of the spring semester will be conducted completely online and examinations will be online. Interestingly, UPenn’s spring break has been extended for a week to give the university more time to migrate to virtual learning. Official updates here.


Brown’s measures are similar; all undergraduate students who live in on-campus residences or Brown-owned properties must vacate their residences by March 22, and all graduate and undergraduate classes will be moved to remote learning from March 30 to the end of semester. Classes for the last week of this semester have also been cancelled to prepare for online learning, and to make up for the missed classes teaching will continue through reading week later in the semester. Read about it here.


The responses at Columbia are, by comparison, a little less extreme. Students living in the undergraduate halls are being encouraged to move off-campus, but students will not have to prove that they have no other option to stay. No other university housing will completely close, many campus services will remain open, and facilities such the libraries will remain open. However, like the other Ivies, all classes for the remainder of the semester will be conducted online. See updates here.


Dartmouth seems to have different approaches to undergraduate and graduate arrangements. Undergraduate students are being asked to leave or not to return to campus, but graduate students are not required to leave campus and their housing situations will remain unchanged. All undergraduate classes will be conducted virtually, whereas some graduate lab-work will continue to go ahead on campus. Overall, the rest of their measures are similar, read them here.


Cornell’s procedures are also less extreme, or at least somewhat delayed. Beginning on April 6, slightly after other colleges, Cornell’s Ithaca campus will move to remote learning. They have yet to announce their ‘move out’ procedures, and students are still allowed to return to campus, given of course they self-quarantine for 14 days if having travelled overseas. More here.


On the West Coast, Stanford’s response includes encouraging undergraduates to leave campus during spring break, and should not plan to return to campus until further notice. Undergraduates who are already on campus and feel they need to remain are welcome to do so, and graduates who typically live in less-communal residences certainly will not need to vacate. Eventually, Stanford may need to step up these measures, since there has very recently been a case of coronavirus in the Stanford community, and there is a risk of spread. However, on the virtual learning front, they are ahead of the game and have already migrated to online learning for the last few weeks of this quarter. Updates here.


At Oxford, the situation is rather strange. Oxford is the only university on our update with students infected, with five students testing positive for the virus as of the 12th of March. They are in self-isolation, and those they have been in close contact with have also been instructed to isolate. Despite the calls for ‘panic stations’, the university's response has been thin compared to their American counterparts.

There have been no attempts to limit the density of people on campus, no concerted effort to move to virtual learning, and no real diminution of university services. Keep in mind that the university’s response relies heavily on instruction by English public health authority, which claims the risk to other students and staff is very low and that university and college activities can continue as normal. This might change in the next few days, keep an eye on the updates here.


Following the divide between the approaches to tackle the virus between the US and the UK, Cambridge has done very little in response to the virus, and their updates mainly related to restricting overseas travel and studying abroad in affected places.

But the calls to implement tough measures are less strong at Cambridge compared to Oxford, given there are no confirmed cases as of yet, and only one suspected case in the Cambridgeshire. Read updates here.