Carnegie Mellon University

June 2, 2020

Dear Members of the Carnegie Mellon Faculty and Staff:

Upon the completion of a spring semester unlike any in our history, I am writing to share details of our planning and preparations for the fall. First, I am extremely proud of all that you accomplished on such short notice and grateful for your tireless and heartfelt efforts that enabled us to confer degrees for our Class of 2020 graduates on May 17.

Now we are faced with planning for a fall semester amid continued uncertainty of the pandemic’s progression. Yet, even in that uncertainty, there are some things we know, which must guide our next steps. We know that some members of our community will be unable to return to campus due to travel restrictions, visa problems or health concerns and thus will not be able to attend or conduct classes in person. We also know that in order to meet the health and safety standards adopted by the university in compliance with guidance from national, state and local health officials, campus will need to be less dense to support physical distancing requirements. Class sizes will not be able to exceed a prescribed maximum and, therefore, not all classes will be able to be held in person due to space constraints. Faced with what we know, the only sensible approach for Carnegie Mellon is to offer a hybrid model of teaching and learning that will maximize flexibility, accessibility and, most importantly, the quality, creativity and innovation that our students expect.

More than ever before, our success depends on collaboration. I am confident that with your continued creativity, commitment and passion, Carnegie Mellon will deliver a distinctive and cutting-edge educational experience. I am committed to ongoing communication and transparency to support your efforts. In that spirit, and in partnership with your academic deans and department heads, I’m sharing a summary of our rationale, impacts and decisions, along with available support as you design and prepare your courses for the fall semester.

A Hybrid Model for Teaching and Learning at CMU

The hybrid model of teaching and learning for the fall semester has been developed with an intentional and creative design process to minimize negative impacts while maintaining maximum flexibility. Our shared goal is to build a schedule that works for the majority of courses with a process to adjust as needed, which will be guided by academic leaders and faculty.

We need to be flexible in our educational approach for fall of 2020 so that students can participate in person or remotely depending on their personal situation and so that we can be prepared for fluid conditions of the pandemic.

At the course level, this means we will be offering both in-person and remote instruction for as many of our courses as possible. We are actively working on the logistics to enable this in-person instruction for all programs, but it will not be possible for all courses to be offered in person due to classroom capacity restrictions given physical distancing requirements.

Academic Calendar and Course Schedule

As was announced previously, CMU will be open in the fall and classes will begin on August 31 in Pittsburgh. We have decided that all courses will be remote-only after Thanksgiving to mitigate any inherent risk in return travel following the traditional holiday break.

As for the course schedule, multiple considerations have been factored into our decisions. First, to meet physical distancing requirements and gathering limits set by local or state authorities, there will be reduced capacity in every classroom. Second, we recognize that students may need more time and space to move about campus to support physical distancing, and the facilities staff will require time to clean rooms between classes. Third, our decisions should not delay a student’s ability to complete their degree. Fourth, if students are in Pittsburgh, we recognize we want to make as much of their learning available to them in person subject to classroom space availability. Fifth, we recognize that students take many courses outside of their home departments. We want to continue to offer as many of the courses in the current course schedule as possible.

Considering these assumptions, and in consultation with deans, department heads and faculty, we will design a Fall 2020 course schedule that: (1) accommodates the majority of our courses; (2) minimizes the amount of re-registration for students; and (3) identifies which courses are able to be offered both in person and remotely and which can only be offered remotely. In addition, we will provide a process for deans and department heads to make adjustments to the schedule, such as dividing a larger course section into several smaller sections or adjusting the instructional modality for specific health and safety guidelines, pedagogical purposes or programmatic priorities.  

While the course schedule and instructional modality may have to be adjusted if guidance from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania changes, the following decisions will guide our delivery of courses in the fall:

  • Effective August 31, the first classes of the day will begin at 8:00 a.m. with 30-minute breaks between classes held on campus. This schedule represents a “stretching” of the day’s class times and involves re-mapping each originally assigned time slot. We will work with department heads and the University Registrar to minimize the number of courses in the later time slots where possible. 

  • Courses with enrollments at or under the current guidelines for gathering sizes will be provided a room assignment that accommodates physical distancing. This gathering limit, currently defined by the Commonwealth, is 25 people (23 students, 1 instructor and 1 teaching assistant). Any course currently in the course schedule with an enrollment below 24 students is able to be accommodated by the available classroom capacity.

  • Courses with enrollments between the current gathering limit of 25 people (23 students) and below the limit of 40 people (38 students) may be allowed with future guidance from the Commonwealth. In addition, even if the Commonwealth eliminates gathering limits, we have a limited number of classrooms to support such courses. Therefore, for courses in this enrollment size range, I recommend that they be designed for remote instruction with the faculty member considering possible options for hybrid conversion with in-person educational opportunities if they should arise. We aim to work closely and flexibly with departments in dealing with courses in this enrollment size range.

  • Based on an analysis of our classroom capacity and what we need to do in order to meet current physical distancing guidelines, no course section with an enrollment over 40 people (or 38 students) will be offered in person. Smaller recitation sections and meeting groups already scheduled for the course will still be accommodated to supplement the remote lecture. In addition, departments will be able to submit a request to add smaller discussion sections or break large course sections into smaller course sections. However, given space constraints, the course schedule will be limited in its capacity to accommodate such requests. We are committed to work with department heads and deans to prioritize these adjustments to ensure that all students have as much in-person interaction with faculty as possible.

  • Depending on the circumstances, we may need to make additional adjustments to accommodate future directives from the Commonwealth, such as asking courses to go remote-only for a short period of time or asking students to alternate coming to class in person. It is not our intention to use these measures unless the circumstances warrant such action. Even so, courses that are being offered and taught in both in-person and remote modes should have a back-up plan for remote-only instruction.

It is critical that we strive to design both high-quality in-person experiences as well as high-quality remote instruction for those students who may not be able to return to campus in the fall and are learning remotely. If a course is to be taught in person in the fall in an assigned classroom, it must also afford instruction to those who are remote.

The University Registrar’s Office will provide scheduled Fall 2020 course offerings and enrollment information to departments. Departments should then use this information and the above stated guidelines when considering any request for changes or alterations to their schedules. For example, course offerings that contribute to on-time graduation for students’ majors or minors should not be changed or altered. Additional information for requesting schedule adjustments will be communicated to deans and department heads in the coming days. This feedback will help us work together to construct the final schedule for fall and inform clear communications to our students and faculty about their specific schedule of courses (i.e., time, location and modality).

How to Design for Both In-Person and Remote Instruction

There are multiple approaches to teaching a course with both in-person and remote students. No one size will fit all. Each has various pros and cons that may balance out differently in different course contexts and may vary greatly by discipline. Here are a few examples to demonstrate the possibilities:

  • Teach all students, in person and remote, at the same time with some in the classroom and some participating via Zoom or another videoconferencing setup. In this mode, it will be important to consider how to facilitate active participation by all (e.g., by having a TA or rotating student moderators for remote students’ participation).

  • Offer two completely separate sections of the course, one for those in person and one for those accessing the course remotely. Whereas this may have the advantage of teaching to a single mode at any point in time (and facilitating active interaction for students in either mode), it increases the effort of the faculty member and requires that a separate section of the existing course be put on the schedule.  

  • Engage in a variant of the “flipped classroom” approach in which the instructor provides asynchronous learning resources and activities for all students to complete on their own time (e.g., a task, reading or mini-lecture with associated discussion questions or a short quiz) and then adjusts the amount of synchronous class time accordingly so that each week the in-person students come to the classroom for one class period and remote students attend class for a different class period, in alternating fashion.

Course Development Support and Classroom Infrastructure Investment

To help faculty members design their courses, the Eberly Center is preparing a range of resources and support, including access to a new menu of tested tools and techniques. Eberly’s offerings are designed to meet faculty needs – from a one-shot workshop focused on incorporating one high-leverage strategy into your fall course design to a signature course initiative that will include an intensive summer institute. Eberly staff will continue to provide individual consultations to further assist faculty to integrate technology into their curriculum and pedagogical methods. Additional details and online resources will be available in the coming days.

We are also making investments in technology that will be installed throughout campus over the summer, including installation of new standard minimum video and microphone capability in all University Registrar and key departmental classrooms and enhanced video capability in select specialized rooms. Additional details are forthcoming regarding these investments and opportunities for how they can be integrated into your course development.

Preparing our Campus and Supporting our Community

The university has developed a set of minimum requirements to support the safe return to on-site work. In addition, we have undertaken a comprehensive analysis of classroom, studio, lab, common and other spaces, as well as a study of our HVAC systems. These efforts will result in a number of measures applied to all facilities and spaces on campus, such as:

  • Modification of spaces, including installation of physical barriers or plexiglass shields and reconfiguration of furniture and equipment;

  • Enhanced sanitation and disinfection following CDC guidelines;

  • Making available facial coverings and other protective equipment, as needed;

  • Installing informational signage and directional markings that will indicate entrance and exits, maximum room occupancy, encourage behavior such as symptom checking and effective handwashing, and discourage congregating and use of elevators; and

  • Identification and training of Pandemic Safety Officers to ensure compliance to minimum requirements continue to be met in operational plans.

These requirements and efforts are expected to evolve as more information becomes available, including for screening, testing and contact tracing.

We understand that some faculty may have health and safety concerns, as well as personal circumstances that may require adjustment or restructuring of their work. Understanding these concerns is important for supporting our community as we plan for fall instruction. In the coming weeks, we will provide formal guidance to deans and department and school heads to support faculty who have questions about accommodations related to medical issues, which will be managed through Human Resources to maintain the privacy of medical information, or work modifications related to other personal circumstances, which will be managed through the departments and colleges.

Commitment to Process and Communication

Our scenario planning has involved faculty and staff from across the university, benefiting from a diversity of perspectives and disciplines from our community, including the subject matter expertise of our Emergency Response Preparedness Team. I am grateful to the members of the Provost’s Academic Matters Committee and its subcommittees — Hybrid Fall 2020 Plan, the Future of CMU Education Post-COVID19, Preparing the Faculty for Fall 2020, and Engaging our Students over Summer 2020 — for providing valuable advice to me on all of these complex issues surrounding our educational activity during this pandemic. Members of these committees have been tireless in their creativity and efforts to listen, learn and debate in order to provide context, options and advice for our next phase of planning and preparation for Fall 2020 and beyond.

Recommendations from the Provost’s Academic Matters Committee have been vetted and discussed in a variety of forums, including the Executive Management Team, Deans’ Council, Associate Deans and Department Heads and with leadership from Faculty Senate and student leaders. I am grateful for our community’s feedback and support as we plan and prepare for the fall. We are committed to continued communication as our plans and protocols evolve.

Moving Forward Together

We are making every effort to welcome students to campus this fall. We will continue to monitor the pandemic and the guidance from local, state and federal health authorities in order to support our decisions and plans to ensure that we can do so prudently.

These difficult and trying times have placed an enormous amount of stress on our everyday lives. I am grateful for your patience, caring, determination and creativity. Although the pandemic’s impact on higher education has been significant and its lasting impact is yet to be fully realized, your dedication will ensure that Carnegie Mellon University will continue leading the way in preparing Tartans to do the work that matters.


Jim Garrett, Provost