Planning for the spring semester

Dear Cornell community,

As the end of the fall semester approaches, it is worth noting, once again, how thankful I am for our community’s collective resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Across our campuses, faculty, staff, and students have demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and a firm commitment to protecting public health.

While many of us had hoped that the upcoming spring semester might offer a return to more familiar academic routines, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a serious threat nationally and globally. If one thing is clear, it is that we can expect more unpredictability ahead, requiring us to draw upon the same flexibility and shared sense of responsibility that have served our campuses well this fall. With the awareness that our plans may necessarily change, I am offering this initial guidance on the university’s current expectations for the months ahead.

Spring 2021 Academic Calendar

The university plans to proceed with the instruction dates outlined in the 2020-21 academic calendar, with classes beginning February 8 and concluding May 25 on our Ithaca and Cornell Tech campuses. While we will not have a traditional spring break, two separate two-day wellness breaks are planned. Professional degree program calendars may vary, so, if necessary, be sure to check with your college or department for more specifics.

As with the current semester, courses in the spring will be offered in a variety of modalities, including in-person, online, and hybrid approaches. We are working with colleges and departments in an effort to add more in-person courses for the spring. Students can expect to receive more detailed information on pre-enrollment and course listings in December.

Health and Safety Guidelines

In welcoming students back to campus for the spring semester, we anticipate that most rules and guidelines from this fall will remain in place. This includes wearing a face covering, maintaining physical distance, limiting in-person gatherings, and complying with all Daily Check health assessment and surveillance testing requirements. As in the fall, students will again be required to abide by the Cornell Student Behavioral Compact, which may be updated based on the experiences of the fall semester.

Spring Arrival Planning

Spring move-in will operate in a similar fashion to this fall, with students in on-campus housing being assigned an arrival date and time that corresponds with all then-current New York state quarantine and testing requirements. We expect off-campus students will again be responsible for self-quarantining for a minimum of five days while awaiting two negative test results. All students will be required to complete all necessary testing before they are cleared to access campus facilities. Students should expect to receive details about move-in dates and requirements by the end of the semester.

Travel Restrictions

To curb potential spread of the virus, travel for all members of the Cornell community will remain strongly discouraged during the spring semester, and there will be a more rigorous approval process for any non-essential personal student travel. Students planning to return to the Ithaca area this spring should be prepared to remain here for the duration of the semester with limited-to-no personal travel outside of the greater Ithaca area. Travel for Cornell-related research or scholarship remains prohibited for undergraduate students, and graduate and professional students must submit a petition to travel domestically or internationally.

Campus Activities

Just as we did at the beginning of the fall semester, as a precautionary measure there will be no in-person student events or activities at the beginning of the spring semester. Once students have completed quarantine, and we are confident that our virus prevalence is low, we can once again expect to ease restrictions to allow for small in-person activities and gatherings as the semester progresses.

May Commencement

We are excited to celebrate the accomplishments of our May 2021 graduates, and of course we dearly hope that we can have an in-person ceremony. Unfortunately, it remains too early to determine if that will be possible. We expect to provide an update on May commencement planning in early 2021.

Our experiences thus far with this pandemic have taught us that one of the most important elements in all our planning is flexibility. While we cannot yet finalize all details for the spring semester, we will provide the campus community with additional information over the coming weeks to assist faculty, staff, and students in their planning. Please continue to monitor your Cornell email, as this is the best way for us to reach you with important updates and reminders.

I continue to be inspired each day by the way the Cornell community has come together throughout this challenging time, demonstrating what can be achieved when we follow the science, stay committed to best practices, and care for each other. I wish you and your families a safe Thanksgiving, and I look forward to seeing many of you back on campus this spring.


Martha E. Pollack