Announcing tentative in-person plan for Fall 2021

Williams students, faculty and staff,

I’m writing to announce that, if trends continue as predicted and hoped for, we’re planning to open for a fully in-person Williams Fall 2021 semester. I’m happy to think about the possibility and hope you are, too.

This is a tentative plan. If conditions take a turn for the worse we’ll announce any necessary change by July 1, and would then allow students to alter their fall plans in response.

Here are a few major factors we will consider in the meantime:

Vaccination: President Biden has set an expectation that all adults in the U.S. should have access to a Covid vaccine by May 1. In Massachusetts, our vaccination program opens to the general public (including people who study and work in the state, regardless of residency) starting April 19. So we have good reason to believe that by next fall the great majority of adults in the country, including our own community members, will be vaccinated. If anything were to seriously affect that outlook it could upset our fall plans.

State Covid restrictions: In late February Governor Baker announced that, due to a continuing decline in Covid rates, Massachusetts would loosen capacity restrictions for indoor dining and recreation. If the public health outlook continues to improve, next week he’ll increase limits on gatherings at event venues and in public settings. Our ability to hold an in-person fall depends on this continued progress toward reopening. So any negative turn in state rules, too, could have an impact.

Local conditions: Our hope and assumption is that all fall classes will be taught in person. The caveat is that we’ll have to monitor decisions by the local schools, among other factors that might impact individual faculty members. These and other considerations will become clearer as opening gets closer.

If changes in any of the aforementioned areas require us to rethink fall plans, we’ll promptly inform you of that fact.

Desire to reconvene: Finally, I want you to know that people’s (including my own!) eagerness to be together again also figures into my thinking, as do the benefits of a residential liberal arts education. In a different world we could take such considerations for granted. But in this world we can’t. So I want you to know that I’ll give weight to our collective need for community and in-person learning while we also watch the public health trends.

A residential learning experience is the very heart of what makes Williams special. My gratitude goes out to everyone—faculty, staff, students, families, alumni, neighbors—who has worked hard to retain as much of that spirit as we could during a hybrid year. I’m buoyed by the possibility that we’ll be able to return in earnest next fall, and that I’ll be able to welcome you all back home.