Carnegie Mellon University

May 14, 2020

Dear Carnegie Mellon Faculty and Staff:

As we approach the end of the academic year, we know you are eager for more information about the university’s plans for the fall semester. Today, we are writing to outline the university’s transition plan to gradually bring activities back to our campuses. We wish to emphasize that today’s email is intended to provide high-level information about our current philosophy and approach, and that more concrete details will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead.

In this email, we do note where information applies to all CMU locations, and where it is specific to the Pittsburgh campus. Additional guidance for other locations will be sent by the heads of those programs.

Relevant to our Pittsburgh campus, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently announced that, as part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s three-staged plan for re-opening the economy, Allegheny County is scheduled to move from the red to the yellow, or less restrictive, phase on Friday, May 15. We are cautiously optimistic after hearing the governor’s announcement, which serves as an important signal that efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in this region have been met with some measure of success.

We will soon begin a phased approach for carefully re-opening some activities on our Pittsburgh campus. Please note that since the governor’s order continues to prohibit in-person instruction, remote instruction will continue for all summer courses through August 1. We are currently planning for fall semester classes to begin in Pittsburgh on the previously scheduled date of August 31, under the hybrid model described in earlier communications and as outlined later in this message.

For the past several weeks, leaders from across both academic and administrative units at Carnegie Mellon have been collaborating on a comprehensive strategy for returning to on-campus activities at each of our campuses and locations. We are carefully considering every dimension of our operations in the context of this next phase, and we are focused on a very deliberate approach. We have established several principles to guide our decision-making at this crucial time, including commitments to:

  • Adhere to government health and safety requirements and guidance, within a regional context;
  • Implement a phased and piloted approach to re-opening, allowing us to quickly learn from our initial work and improve our on-campus operations;
  • Maintain excellence across our education and research missions, whether they are delivered in-person, through a remote platform, or a hybrid modality;
  • Support a high-quality student experience; and
  • Identify novel educational approaches, such as creative curricula and pedagogy, and technology-enhanced teaching and learning.

The following important parameters will govern our phased approach to resuming on-campus operations:

  • We are actively working with internal and external experts to develop protocols, procedures and technology-based tools to support our community as it returns to campus. We plan to initiate our phased re-opening by launching a series of pilots to test these new protocols, procedures and tools for their effectiveness, efficiency and scalability. We are also developing detailed plans for reconfiguring campus spaces to maximize physical distancing once buildings re-open. These and other measures will be centrally coordinated in order to best leverage campus expertise and capabilities.
  • As the phased approach progresses, supervisors will work closely with their teams to develop appropriate work plans. Those who receive permission to return to campus in the coming weeks will be required to follow precautionary measures, including the use of facial coverings, and other necessary changes to routines and behavior in order to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Specific information on this process and the necessary requirements will be sent to supervisors in the near future.
  • At this point in time, we are pursuing the hybrid model for instruction in the fall, which requires us to be prepared to deliver instruction both in-person and remotely, as needed. We are committing to this flexibility for the Pittsburgh campus, and potentially other campuses, because we recognize that some students, faculty and staff will not be able to return by the first day of class for a variety of reasons, including domestic and international travel restrictions, difficulty in obtaining visas, or individual health and safety concerns. We further recognize we may need to pivot to other modes of operation if conditions change. Provost Garrett will provide more detailed information to the faculty in the coming weeks about the hybrid model and how to prepare for the fall semester.
  • Across all of our programs, we will continue to rely on our world-renowned expertise in the science of learning. By leveraging these strengths, we will innovate and improve our teaching and learning to give all students the quality and creativity they expect from their Carnegie Mellon education, no matter what modality of learning they require.
  • We are beginning the initial stages of a multi-phased approach to bringing research and creative practice back to the Pittsburgh campus, beginning with a subset of those activities that cannot be done remotely. A cross-campus working group, led by Vice President for Research Michael McQuade, is collaborating with our deans and academic leaders to further prioritize these efforts, and over time, bring more research activities back to campus. Vice President McQuade will communicate more details on this approach to our research community in Pittsburgh, including faculty and graduate students, next week.

As we have emphasized before, this pandemic is constantly evolving, and we are closely tracking the situation and incorporating new information into our planning on a daily basis. Our decisions will be rooted in science, driven by data, and informed by the guidance of public health experts and government officials within the regions in which we operate. As we further develop our campus re-opening plans for various locations, we will continue to work closely with the leadership of our academic and administrative units to engage with key stakeholders and representative bodies, including Faculty Senate, Staff Council and the leadership of student government. Furthermore, as our planning evolves, we will continue to communicate with our entire campus community, especially with our students and their families.

Returning to in-person operations is a highly complex endeavor; however, we have an outstanding team at CMU that is committed to taking these exciting next steps with care, compassion and attention to detail. We are approaching the coming months with cautious optimism and with gratitude for your continued patience and cooperation. We are confident that, with your help, CMU will emerge from this crisis stronger and even better prepared to address humanity’s challenges at this moment in history.


Farnam Jahanian, President
Jim Garrett, Provost