Harvard undergraduates circulate petition against virtual fall semester amid coronavirus pandemic

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As colleges and universities around the country contemplate whether to reopen their campuses in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of undergraduate students at one Ivy League school are letting their voices be heard.

Harvard University revealed last month that it would resume teaching and research in fall 2020, but didn't say exactly how that would look like.

According to The Harvard Crimson, university president Lawrence S. Bacow said school officials were considering “lots of different scenarios” for the upcoming semester.

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In light of this, a petition began circulating among undergraduates arguing against a virtual fall semester at Harvard College — the university’s undergraduate institution.

The petition has garnered nearly 700 signatures from undergraduates, parents and alumni, The Harvard Crimson reported Tuesday.

“We call on Harvard College to postpone, rather than virtually begin, the fall semester if COVID19 conditions prevent the timely commencement of on-campus activities,” the petition reads, condemning the university’s plan to hold reopen in the fall “no matter what.”

The petition continued: “Harvard has long admitted that one of the most important factors in ensuring the richness of such an education is the diversity of its admitted students. Virtual learning, however, also threatens to tear the very fabric of this diversity by eliminating the equalizing force of campus life.”

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Sanika S. Mahajan, who would enter her senior year at Harvard, told the newspaper that she hoped the petition would urge Harvard administrators to prioritize feedback from students regarding virtual learning alongside public health considerations.

“A virtual fall is rife with inequities, similarly to the end of the spring semester that was conducted virtually,” Mahajan said. “This is especially concerning if there was a return to letter grading.”

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Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana told the Crimson in an email that he appreciates students’ suggestions about how the college might reopen in the fall.

"As many students have expressed both directly to the College and in this petition, I want nothing more than to have our students living and learning on campus this fall. With that said, the College will not bring students back to campus unless or until we can do it safely,” Khurana wrote. “While I appreciate students' desires for the fall semester, we must plan for all possibilities and do so with their health, safety, and academic progress as our ultimate priority."