May 5 Town Hall FAQ
Decisions and timing | Safety and testing | Finances and off-campus resources | General student questions | Undergraduate students | Graduate students | Staff and faculty | Academics, housing, and dining
Below is an extensive summary of the nearly 600 questions we received during the May 5 Town Hall. Answers will be updated as new information becomes available.
Decisions and timing
No. While Governor Baker has extended the stay-at-home order for Massachusetts through May 18, the MIT campus will continue in its own mode of limited operations. At present, we do not expect that any member of our community who is not already living or working on campus will be returning immediately following the expiration of Governor Baker’s current order.
We don’t have a firm deadline, but are hoping to make these decisions by late June or early July. However, the situation is still changing very rapidly. While we’re learning more about Covid-19 every day, MIT’s leaders believe the right and responsible thing to do is to wait until the last possible moment to make that decision — so that our decision is informed by the best possible understanding of the progression of Covid-19, and of how to stop its spread.
We have many people from all parts of the campus working together to come up with scenarios on how we can repopulate the campus, and when. All these individuals are organized in working groups.
One of the most important issues that we have to consider before deciding how and when to repopulate campus is the public health situation and our understanding of Covid-19 and its transmission. Before we begin to reopen campus, we need to give careful thought to how we’ll manage social distancing, testing, and tracing. We also need a clearer understanding of when we might realistically have access to Covid-19 vaccines and medical treatments. We need to prioritize community health and well-being for all who are on campus.
We confer regularly with other area universities, and are comparing and discussing our plans for reopening. Each campus is unique, and each will have to make a reopening decision based on what is best for that school and its community. But we are coordinating as much as we can to come up with best practices for reopening and for procedures, training, and other topics.
We have reached out to numerous universities in Asia and Europe and maintain an ongoing conversation with them. What we’ve learned so far is the importance of masks and physical distancing. Also, it’s clear from the experience of others who have made these decisions before us that it’s important to reopen in a manner that is phased, very careful, and very thoughtful. Everywhere the emphasis is on safety and community health.
MIT is awaiting notification from the City of Cambridge regarding a date when construction will be allowed to proceed. In accordance with a temporary emergency construction moratorium instituted by the City of Cambridge, MIT suspended construction activities effective Saturday, March 21, with the exception of some emergency activities that have been approved to proceed by the city. While we await news from the city, MIT’s construction management teams are developing site protocols to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the construction workers and members of our community during the time of Covid-19. These new protocols will impact the pace of construction, and we are developing scheduling scenarios that will take into account these factors once the plans have been finalized and approved by the city. As we work on these plans, we are in contact with the offices who were scheduled to move into these spaces. We will share more information once the city establishes a date for ramping up construction work.
During this time, the sites are being monitored to maintain safety and security. Note that this moratorium only affects the construction phase of these projects and that planning and design activities continue. In addition, staff who provide repair and maintenance services continue to be available on campus and will work within the city’s guidelines to provide approved emergency repairs as needed.
While MIT has a solid structure in place to respond to emergencies, we were only in the beginning phases of a three- to five-year continuity planning project whose completion would have helped in mapping our response. Every emergency is a learning opportunity, and in this case, we have made important strides in online teaching and learning, identifying critical research, and testing the ability of our employees and students to work and learn from home.
Safety and testing
Ensuring the safety of the community is MIT’s top priority and everyone’s responsibility. Of course, MIT will comply with any guidance or directives issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with regard to safety on our campus. We will likely conduct regular health assessments via simple questionnaires for those learning, working, and doing research on campus. We will also continue to have Covid-19 testing available. Most importantly, all of us will need to follow good public health practices. This means staying home if you are ill, wearing a face covering, physical distancing, and frequent hand washing. Those who may have a positive Covid-19 test will also need to isolate for the recommended amount of time so that they can fully recover and not pass the virus on to others.
Additionally, many at MIT are working together to plan work environments that enable physical distancing. This means planning for fewer people on campus as more return over time, being thoughtful about where and how people enter and exit and move about buildings, and cleaning restrooms and work areas.
Unfortunately, we can’t know for sure. We will all need to continue to wear face coverings, maintain physical distance from each other, avoid touching surfaces, and continue our regular handwashing to stay healthy. All of these layers of personal effort – plus health checks and testing – combine to limit transmission to self or others.
No, having had Covid-19 will not allow you to return to campus any earlier than other members of the community. We still do not know if infection with the virus confers lasting immunity or if there are risks of reinfection.
We are discussing whether this will be a requirement for returning to campus, and, if so, whether it will be done just prior to returning to MIT or once on campus. More information will be made available to the community in the coming weeks. One way or the other, testing is likely to be essential to our community’s well-being.
MIT Medical expects to have antibody testing available at some point. There are still many questions about the usefulness of that test this early in the pandemic, especially as we still do not know the level of immunity that can be conferred by antibodies if they are present.
MIT Medical is ramping up its ability to provide testing for Covid-19 and expects to be able to test several thousand people per week if necessary. MIT Medical is working with the Division of Student Life (DSL) regarding an isolation strategy for students (whether on-campus residents or not) who have tested positive. As we currently have two isolation facilities designated on campus for students and for the broader MIT community, we are practiced in standing those up and are prepared to do so again if needed by the MIT community in a second-wave scenario.
MIT Medical also continues to provide contact tracing to the community, and we hope to introduce additional technology to help us with this in the fall.
MIT Medical, like the rest of MIT, is subject to the Institute’s hiring freeze and cannot hire new personnel at this time. We will work to use our existing resources as efficiently as possible, and we may need to shift some of our staff toward work related to Covid-19. Our Student Mental Health and Counseling Service will continue to provide the services they always have, and we expect telemedicine services to continue. The service will also likely expand the number of support and therapy groups they offer, as this allows us to help more people with our current resources.
The testing performed over the last six weeks at MIT as part of a COUHES-approved research project has shown that there are very few Covid-19 infections in the residences on campus. Most of the people who have tested positive for Covid-19 at MIT Medical most likely acquired the infection in the off-campus environment where they live or through relatives and other close contacts.
MIT has already purchased more than 250,000 disposable masks for use by the students, staff, and medical professionals who are now on campus. We will order more if that becomes necessary with the repopulation of campus.
The simple answer is that everything helps. Most likely, face masks will be part of the return to campus, and it’s likely that physical distancing policies will also be in place on campus for the foreseeable future.
Housing & Residential Services (HRS) and Facilities Custodial Services are taking proactive steps to reduce exposure within each of MIT’s residential and academic communities. These efforts include:
- Increasing frequency of cleaning and disinfecting common areas and shuttles. Custodial staff have received enhanced training in cleaning and disinfecting touch-points — including handrails, elevator buttons, and door handles — and have switched to a disinfecting cleaning solution as they increase the frequency of cleaning touch-points.
- Providing hand sanitizer in public spaces, in residence halls, and on shuttles. Over 300 new hands-free disinfectant stations were deployed across campus, including in FSILGs on and off campus.
- Posting signs about proper hand-washing in restrooms.
- In residence halls, ensuring that front-desk and residential staff know where to direct students with concerns about Covid-19.
Finances and off-campus resources
Right now, MIT is focused on determining what fall and spring of the coming academic year will look like. Once we have a clearer understanding of this, we’ll be in a much better position to make determinations about whether tuition should be adjusted.
As part of the rebudgeting process that we began in March, we have already anticipated that students’ need for support will go up — possibly substantially. MIT has already announced that the undergraduate financial aid budget for the coming year is $148 million, an increase of 7.8 percent from this year.
As President Reif wrote to the community on April 13: “We will keep our commitment to admitting undergraduates regardless of their financial situation and to covering their full demonstrated need — and we are preparing for the likelihood that students may need more help.”
This is a challenging and disruptive time for everyone, but MIT senior leadership understands that some of our community members will be affected more than others. Additional financial resources were made available for students relocating off campus, including emergency funds, travel change reimbursements, and moving and storage services. Below are a few examples of the financial assistance resources we’ve committed to providing so that we can help students bridge to the other side of this crisis:
- We are providing WiFi hotspots and other computing equipment free of charge for undergraduate and graduate students in need during this time of remote learning and social distancing.
- We are offering a no-cost meal plan for undergraduate students who remain on campus in emergency housing. Our SwipeShare meal donations program is still available to graduate students.
- Undergraduate students who face unforeseen financial hardship as a result of Covid‑19 can complete the Undergraduate Hardship Form to request financial support.
- Graduate students who are struggling with financial insecurity can seek short- and long-term financial assistance.
One hundred percent of the undergraduate students living in on-campus housing who were required to leave campus have been sent their pro-rated housing and meal plan refunds, and all students who paid their spring semester student life fee have been sent a pro-rated refund for half of that fee.
Because of the restricted nature of many of the gifts that constitute the endowment, there’s a limit to how much of it can be drawn down. Following the 2008 crisis, MIT worked to build flexible financial reserves, funds we’ve used these last two months to support faculty, students, and staff as they’ve transitioned to remote work and learning. In the coming year, the Institute will continue to use unrestricted reserves — supplemented, if needed, by borrowing enabled by the Institute’s strong financial position — to cover what will likely be significant losses, while advancing MIT’s mission and promoting the health and safety of our community. Over time MIT will need to replenish these vital reserves and repay debt to return the Institute to a strong financial footing. We make these commitments as we work to preserve our endowment, which year in and year out provides a substantial portion of our operating revenue and which is essential to a strong MIT, now and in the future.
General student questions
We’re monitoring the situation closely and in contact with officials in Washington to stress the importance of returning our international students to campus when it is safe to do so. We also continue to communicate with these students to try to help them with any travel or visa issues that might arise. We understand that there are a number of unusual circumstances that are now affecting the ability of international students to freely come to MIT and to stay at MIT. We’re looking at a number of different scenarios to address the potential need for remote research or remote learning.
On occasion, an undergraduate leaves MIT for a break, a change of direction or emphasis, or even to take advantage of educational, research, travel, or volunteer opportunities. Deciding whether to take a leave or stay — perhaps with a change in academic program — is a difficult decision. In addition to your parents and your advisor, there are people at MIT willing to discuss the issue with you. Please contact Student Support Services for help, and get more information on leaves here.
Graduate degree programs should be completed without interruption. Graduate students may take a brief personal leave at the discretion of their faculty supervisor, typically 1-4 weeks in duration, during which time the student is still registered. A student who wishes to take a longer period of time away from the Institute for any reason other than an approved medical leave would withdraw after discussing a plan for return with their advisor or research supervisor and department. International students on F-1 and J-1 visas need a new Certificate of Eligibility (Form I- 20, or DS2019) in order to re-enroll at MIT. See the policy details here.
Any current international student requesting a Leave of Absence should speak with their ISO advisor in advance of making a final decision to be sure they understand the visa implications and the procedures from a visa perspective to depart the US or return to the US after their leave.
The various working groups are committed to engaging student voices in their deliberations. For example, the Academic Continuity Working Group’s summer planning teams consulted with student leaders about summer travel and programming decisions before those decisions were finalized. The 2021 Task Force is recruiting student members now. And departments and heads of house are engaging students about the options under consideration for the fall.
Two student town halls — one for graduate students and one for undergraduate students — are scheduled for May 13.
Staff in the Division of Student Life are working on plans to open some Campus Activities Complex spaces that can be adapted to meet pertinent public health recommendations for preventing the spread of Covid-19. Groups that make up the Diversity and Community Involvement group — including Student Organizations, Leadership and Engagement (SOLE), the Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life (ORSEL), the Office of Multicultural Programs (OMP), LBGTQ+ Services, and Social Justice Programming and Cross-Cultural Engagement (SPXCE) — have virtualized most of their programs already. Other programs may be postponed until the spring semester if needed.
This is a difficult question, because we still don’t know what the campus environment will look like this fall. We also don’t know what the world will look like in September. Deferrals or gap years usually give students a chance to work or travel. This year, options for both pursuits could remain limited. In that sense, staying on track academically and rejoining friends, faculty, and fellow students is itself a compelling option.
We would always encourage students to do what they feel is in their best interest, of course. What you can count on from MIT is this: Whatever approach we implement in the fall, our goal will be to create for those students who are with us an extraordinary, meaningful, and memorable MIT experience.
Absolutely. In fact, we had a record undergraduate yield this year, with a record number of students accepting MIT’s offer of admission into the Class of 2024. Our graduate yield has also continued to be very high. It’s clear that a lot of people are still very excited about coming to MIT.
Undergraduate students admitted to MIT may defer enrollment for one or two years. After confirming their intent to enroll in MIT’s first-year class, they are asked to submit a formal request for deferment to the Admissions Office. Such requests are usually granted.
This standard policy has not changed in light of Covid-19, and to date, we have not seen a dramatic uptick in the number of deferral requests from newly admitted undergraduate students. The various planning scenarios for the fall are taking increased deferments into consideration, but it is too early to consider what, if any, specific actions would be taken.
Graduate students can work with their individual departments/programs on issues related to deferring their admission.
No decision has been made at this time. MIT is awaiting guidance from the NCAA and from our athletic conference, the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.
A petition is circulating about financial support for graduate students during this challenging time. Can you tell us how MIT is prepared to help?
We aim first to address concerns about summer support. Last week, MIT announced the establishment of a short-term emergency fund to support students whose summer plans have been disrupted and who need financial assistance. Because need generally varies across MIT’s graduate programs, we’re working with each school and college dean to ensure that programs have the resources they need to support their students.
Our second step will be to address the impact of Covid-19 on students’ progress toward their degrees and the concerns about support in the fall term. That’s where we’ll turn our attention once we’ve resolved the pressing issue of summer support.
We have followed the recommendation of the Graduate Student Council’s Graduate Stipend Committee, increasing graduate students’ stipends by 2.9 percent. Health insurance rates for our medical plans will not increase in the coming year. Additionally, we will make it possible for current plan members who are graduating this spring to extend their eligibility for the Student Extended Insurance Plan (SEIP) through the end of the calendar year. More details about this option will be shared with students who are enrolled in an MIT Health Plan soon.
We have also created the Summer Opportunities and Resources page, which offers an inventory of internships, jobs, research, and other opportunities for graduate students, undergraduates, and postdocs.
Updates about the research ramp-up and graduate students’ return to campus will be announced before June 1. Using available on-campus housing capacity, Housing & Residential Services (HRS) will continue to support students who are seeking to live on campus. HRS will also remain as flexible as possible to accommodate graduate students’ housing needs and remove potential barriers to securing housing. If circumstances associated with the Covid-19 pandemic alter students’ plans or prevent students from returning to campus through no fault of their own, HRS will work with students on a case-by-case basis and will waive any cancellation fees associated with their 2020-21 on-campus housing license agreements. Students seeking off-campus housing options can also request assistance from HRS staff.
Professor Esther Duflo, who was scheduled to be the speaker at the 2020 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods and Degree Conferral Ceremony, will take part in the virtual May 29 ceremony, offering a salute to advanced degree recipients. Hoods will be mailed to graduates over the summer. The Commencement Committee’s work on a future in-person event will begin this summer, and the committee will explore whether advanced degree recipients would like to participate in that event when it is scheduled.
Staff and faculty
MIT’s goal is to navigate through the current financial challenges without layoffs. As President Reif wrote on April 13, “Given the terrible state of the current job market, we feel a responsibility to avoid or delay as much as possible cutting costs by cutting jobs.” We’re taking very seriously all decisions related to our employees’ livelihoods.
Staff in roles that require them to be on campus during this remote work period are being supported in several ways, such as:
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including masks and gloves, is being provided for all frontline staff. See additional guidance for on-site employees.
- MIT is performing contact tracing on all known cases. In any instances where there has been concern about possible exposure by an employee, all staff members who have had contact with that employee will be informed. Any staff with symptoms of Covid-19 can call MIT Medical (617-253-4865) to schedule an appointment.
- In addition, during this time when nearly all work is being done remotely, hourly staff in roles that require them to be on campus are paid at 25 percent over their regular hourly rate.
Under Governor Baker’s order, daycare providers in Massachusetts are closed through June 29. MIT’s Technology Childcare Centers (TCC) are run by Bright Horizons, a separate company. We are considering different center reopening scenarios, but of course there are still many unknowns. TCC teaching staff are currently receiving wages and benefits through June 29, and MIT is committed to safely and responsibly returning the TCC team and families to our centers as soon as possible. For interim support of parents and children, MIT has increased the number of days of subsidized backup child care for faculty, staff, postdocs, and graduate students to 30 days per fiscal year
MIT is not considering an early retirement incentive program for staff at this time.
We recognize that there are unique issues for staff who have underlying conditions or whose family members have conditions that make them particularly vulnerable. Concerned staff are encouraged to speak directly with their manager or with their HR departmental contact or Human Resources Officer; managers who have questions should contact their local HR departmental contact or Human Resources Officer.
As discussed in the recent Town Hall, MIT will implement a phased approach to reopening campus with an emphasis on the health and safety of the community. Departments, labs, and centers are encouraged to continue remote work where it is possible. In its planning, MIT is distinguishing:
- Work that can only be done on-site;
- Work that is much better done on-site;
- Work that is somewhat better done on-site; and
- Work that can be done nearly as well (or better) remotely.
If the work falls into categories 1 and 2, staff may be required to come to work. We are looking at staggered shifts to avoid the busiest times on public transportation. We encourage employee who believe that their work falls into categories 3 or 4 to talk to their manager. If the manager disagrees, we encourage them to contact someone else in the department, lab, or center or their Human Resources Officer. We are all trying hard to work through these types of questions with compassion and flexibility, and are currently reviewing them on a case-by-case basis.
Free parking will be available through September 1, 2020. We will re-evaluate this emergency policy for the fall term.
The majority of students, faculty, and staff are charged for parking by use, per day, so there will not be any charges incurred that would need to be reimbursed. A small number of staff pay for parking by the month (in our leased lots); we will consider how we might handle their parking fees as the Institute makes decisions in the coming months.
We’re monitoring the situation closely and continue to be in contact with officials in Washington to stress the importance of getting these international scholars onto our campus. We also continue to be in touch with these international researchers to try and help them with any travel or visa issues that might arise. We understand that there are a number of unusual circumstances that are now affecting the ability of international scholars to travel to and stay at MIT. We’re looking at a number of different scenarios to address the potential need for remote research or remote learning.
We plan to continue offering quarantine facilities to care for our residential community. As we announced on March 22, MIT has designated a short-term location for students — including those who live off campus, in the Boston area — who may need quarantine (due to exposure, risk factors, or symptoms) or isolation (for those who have tested positive and need care, but whose condition is not severe enough to require hospital care). Medical professionals staff the facility. We expect that we would set up a similar facility elsewhere as we begin repopulating campus.
Signs posted at each building entrance will provide information about access as well as instructions for individuals to request access to a specific building. Individuals can request access online. If an emergency access need arises, individuals should contact MIT Police at 617-253-1212.
For specific requests/questions about ergonomic assessment for home work setups, staff members should visit the Environment, Health and Safety office’s information page for recommendations about and assessments of home workstation setup.
Academics, housing, and dining
We know that there will need to be a much lower density of people in any given space. Lecture halls and classrooms will accommodate many fewer people than in normal times, and we’ll need to implement a system to manage how people flow in and out of lecture halls and classrooms.
It’s important to note that even if some students are back on campus in the fall, many classes may still be offered online. We anticipate that all classes will need to have an online option, to accommodate both students and instructors who may be at heightened risk from Covid-19.
There are several scenarios that are being considered but which are not yet finalized. Some initial approaches for lab classes include:
- Record experiments in labs, with students analyzing data remotely.
- Redesign project/lab class curricula to have the hands-on work concentrated in one half of the term.
- Send kits (supplies, low-voltage electronics, etc.) to students.
- Increase emphasis on coding and simulations.
- Move lab classes to spring term (potentially cutting some content to account for increased use of labs).
See above. In addition, as of now, MIT summer programming, including UROP, will need to be remote through at least June 28, 2020. Decisions about the remainder of the summer will be made when more information about public health conditions is available, likely by late May. Nonetheless, we encourage both students and mentors to prepare for the likelihood that UROP work over the upcoming summer can only be conducted remotely, and to plan accordingly. Fall plans will follow. Departments are considering various scenarios to support MEng projects and research-based theses that will depend, in part, upon the operational status of the campus.
Various scenarios, including changes to the academic calendar and IAP, are being considered for next academic year and will soon be shared with various stakeholders — students, faculty, and staff — for their input.
It would be premature to start making housing assignments before knowing the status of our academic programs this fall, or before knowing how many undergraduate and graduate students might be on campus. We don’t currently expect to have answers to these questions until late June or early July.
Whatever the fall looks like, we are examining many different models to determine how our residential buildings could safely accommodate a wide range of numbers of students who might be living on campus.
MIT Dining will continue to work in collaboration with its dining vendors to meet the needs of the MIT community. There are many different scenarios being considered for on-campus dining that are dependent upon the most up-to-date medical and public health guidance. MIT Dining continues to think creatively about how to develop new approaches to meal service, including carry-out meal options and physically-distanced serving areas that prioritize the health and safety of MIT students, faculty, and staff.
Fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups are a very important part of the campus experience. We are absolutely thinking about the FSILGs and how they will be linked in with the housing process.