Important Changes to Fall Plans

July 20, 2020

Dear Grinnell students and families,

I write to you today to delineate changes to our fall plans necessitated by shifting pandemic conditions, and as part of my continued commitment to keeping you informed about our process and planning. The public health information and developments that I will discuss below are captured in our publicly available Grinnell COVID-19 dashboard and discussed in the President's Town Hall held last week for faculty and staff, “Educational Experience Within a Public Health Framework.” As a liberal arts institution, we continue to address this pandemic through collaborative research and exchanges of ideas, and are committed to sharing the knowledge gathered in our collaborations.

Iowa and the country were in a much different place when we first began rolling out our plans for the fall and when we invited many of you to campus only a month ago. In our sustained, careful monitoring of the changing conditions of the pandemic, we have established a consultation team that includes experts in epidemiology, computational health mathematics, infectious disease, and data analytics. We continue to review the latest research with them, including on-going research at Harvard and Yale on testing and containment of transmission on college and university campuses.

Current trends in infection rates across the country, especially here in Iowa which now has the second highest infection rate per capita in the Midwest, are deeply concerning. In addition, the  number of cases in individuals between 18 and 40 years old is growing. Unless this trajectory changes, it is clear that the healthcare infrastructure available along the I-80 corridor in Iowa (identified in our dashboard) will be severely stressed to accommodate the rising tide of infections, and the illness and hospitalizations that follow. Without a significant shift in public policy to curtail the spread of the virus, based on the consultation team’s recommendations, we have reconsidered our plan to bring first-year and transfer students to campus for Fall Term 1 — the first 7.5 week term.

It is thus with a heavy heart that, after consulting with campus leaders and the Board of Trustees Executive Committee, and discussing a multitude of options, we have determined that Fall Term 1 classes will be offered remotely and that we must delay the arrival of first-year and transfer students in an effort to further limit the number of students on campus. In so doing, we join the many other schools across the country who have come to similar conclusions in their regions. We know how disruptive these changes are as we continue to prioritize the health of our students, faculty, staff, and deeply inter-connected community.

With the shift to a very low density in Fall Term 1 and the resulting curricular implications, we need to reevaluate who will be on campus in Fall Term 2 and subsequent terms. Thus, we paused sending additional invitations to study and live on campus for Fall Term 2. Our goal remains to provide every student an opportunity to be on campus this year, and we will provide an updated residency plan no later than July 27th. Planned enrollment density will likely be conservative but subject to on-campus increases provided improving conditions in regards to infection rates, treatment, or a vaccine. 

Since our shift to a very low density Fall Term 1 affects our first-year and transfer students most immediately, we are extending their original July 15th deferral deadline to July 31st for those who may find it necessary to change their plans. We will provide a set of available enrollment options in the next update. Tutorial assignments that were announced last week will be retained and taught remotely. Tutorials will meet synchronously and provide an important connection to your adviser and new friends. As you will see below, you are invited to learn more about how Grinnell is planning to support students through our virtual community. I know how heartbreaking this news may be for you, especially those of you who have begun preparing for your experience on campus this fall. Many of you, particularly those who were members of the high school graduating class of 2020, have already endured the loss of life milestones, and I share with you my empathy, as well as my anticipation for the memories and relationships you will cultivate at Grinnell College.

We now expect that, for the fall, the students on campus will be those whose personal circumstances leave them in especially vulnerable and highly stressed situations. First-year students who find themselves in similar circumstances will have an opportunity to petition for campus housing. They, along with approximately 200 students who already have approval to live off campus, will have access to learning and study spaces within public health guidelines, and will participate in the robust testing program we have put in place. However, to reduce the chance of virus transmission, only students living in the residence halls will have access to the dining hall, mail services, and residence halls. Regardless of location, we are confident that you will benefit from our renowned faculty’s dedication and expertise in preparing engaging courses, and our exceptional staff’s commitment and experience in creating robust virtual programming, resources, and support.

We have planned two online meetings this week to help answer the many questions you may have about what this news means for you, how we will keep our promise of an engaging and meaningful educational experience whatever the format, and what we can do to maintain our sense of community. I invite you and your family to participate in these meetings:

I know there is much for you to consider and process. As planning continues, we will continue to provide you with regular updates for your informed decision-making. Please know we did not make this decision about fall plans lightly and that we did so because of our deep concern about both individual and community health and well-being. We invite your questions and comments to In these very challenging times, I encourage you to take care of yourselves and each other and to remain mindful of what others are experiencing. The principles of THRIVE articulated by a group of students, faculty, and staff formed this spring and dedicated to Climate and Culture provide good counsel for enduring and learning from this complex moment in our lives.

Talk to improve transparency
Health and safety
Re-imagine and reconsider what is possible
Inclusion requires flexibility
Value all experiences of vulnerability

In the coming months, we will be building our Grinnell community in a new way. I am confident that we will deepen the bonds of our community and gain a renewed and profound understanding of the power of our educational experience through our creativity and care.

All the best,


Anne F. Harris

More COVID-19 Updates

Weekly COVID-19 Testing Clinic Update: Oct. 19

For the week of Oct. 12, 2020, 321 unique students were tested with 321 being negative and 0 positive resulting in a 0% positivity rate. A total of 232 faculty and staff were tested with 232 being negative and 0 positive also resulting in a 0% positivity rate.

Weekly COVID-19 Testing Clinic Update: Oct. 12

For the week of Oct. 5, 2020, 323 unique students were tested with 323 being negative and 0 positive resulting in a 0% positivity rate. A total of 204 faculty and staff were tested with 204 being negative and 0 positive also resulting in a 0% positivity rate.

Weekly COVID-19 Testing Clinic Update: Oct. 5

For the week of Sept. 28, 2020, 539 unique students, faculty, and staff were tested. Of the 539, 538 were negative and one was positive, resulting in a 0.19% positivity rate.

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