Fall Semester Return to Campus and Instruction

August 11, 2021

Dear Colleagues:

As the fall semester rapidly approaches, we share a sense of excitement for a full return to campus.

Across the University, faculty, researchers, and staff are actively preparing to welcome our students, those newly incoming and those returning, with orientation activities and classes across our schools. Some begin as soon as next week with most starting in early September.

While many colleagues have worked remotely for much of the last 17 months, close to 10,000 Columbia faculty, researchers, and staff have been regularly on campus—conducting or supporting research, teaching in-person or in a hybrid format, implementing programs, providing clinical care, or performing the critical functions that maintain our facilities, operations, and collective health and safety.

For everything you have done over the last 17 months, I would like to thank each of you. Throughout unprecedented challenges, your collective efforts—on campus and remotely—have sustained the excellence of Columbia. It is because of the remarkable work of the entire community that we have been able to successfully fulfill our educational, research, and service missions. For the tremendous efforts that have brought us to this point, we are profoundly grateful. Each step in our return to campus has been planned and taken with care and confidence, shaped by the guidance of the President’s Advisory Task Force on COVID-19, whose recommendations are invariably both expert and transparent.

I write now to provide a few key details regarding our return to campus and to in-person instruction this fall. For this full return, the policies in our plan remain consistently informed by national, state, and city public health guidelines, further underscored by our COVID-19 Task Force, to ensure a safe environment for our community.

This plan includes the following elements:

As we move forward, we will vigilantly track the public health situation in our city and on our campuses. Accordingly, we have put in place a monitoring plan, which will guide any adjustments to our robust safety protocols as conditions change.

I invite you to stay informed by reviewing the plan. In addition, we will continue to add to the Frequently Asked Questions on the University’s COVID-19 site, recently updated to help all of us better understand the precautions and safeguards in place, and how they apply to our community. 

We are heartened by the responsiveness, individually and collectively, to our public health guidelines. The numbers of our affiliates who have complied with our vaccination mandate—which now includes over 95% of faculty and staff—continues to rise every day. While the vaccination mandate is the best way to keep our community safe, we also continue to require face coverings indoors and will maintain this requirement through the end of September as an extra layer of protection as we transition back to the classroom, laboratory, library, and office settings. Subsequent requirements, which may be less restrictive or more so, will depend on prevailing conditions as outlined in the University’s monitoring plan.

For those who have not been on campus since January 2021, several additional steps beyond the vaccination mandate are required to ensure our safe return. These include:

  • Completing gateway testing
  • Signing the Columbia Community Compact
  • Completing required training  

Even those who have been on campus all year must re-sign the updated Columbia Community Compact. All this information can be found in the ReopenCU app.

As we look forward to the vibrancy of campus this fall, we are prepared to make adjustments as any challenges arise. The COVID-19 Task Force and related committees continue to meet frequently to adjust processes as needed and will continue to provide timely updates. One valuable channel is through regularly-held town halls featuring a panel of senior administrators and public health experts.

Above all else, our commitment is to be transparent, supportive, and responsive to our community’s needs as we all return in the coming weeks.


Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering