Sciences Dean Stubbs Says He is 'Guardedly Optimistic' About Fall Semester Return to Campus


Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs said reactions to this fall’s campus reopening range from “enthusiastic” to “apprehensive” in the Sciences Division in an interview last week.

As the University prepares for a “new normal” once affiliates widely receive the Covid-19 vaccine, Stubbs said transitioning back to in-person learning will be a significant task for the faculty.

“Harvard is a big, complicated organization with lots and lots of people,” Stubbs said. “You can’t just hit a key on your keyboard, like ‘Harvard on, Harvard off.’”

Stubbs said the return to a fully residential campus would likely be “complicated,” and described science faculty reactions to the reopening plan for next semester as “mixed.”


“We spent the last year telling people, ‘Stay away, stay safe,’ and how do we pivot as an institution to say, ‘We think we understand how to come back and inhabit our new life together’?” Stubbs said.

“That’s a pivot, and it requires — for people who have not been coming to campus regularly — a change in mindset and an adjustment,” Stubbs added.

Stubbs said, however, he is confident about returning to campus next fall, citing the efficacy of approved Covid-19 vaccines.

“I have faith in data — I’m an empirical scientist,” Stubbs said. “I believe that that gives me maneuver room that will allow me to come to campus and do my job with confidence.”

Stubbs acknowledged that on-campus labs have not been able to run at “100 percent efficiency,” limiting what researchers have been able to accomplish over the past year.

However, he pointed to the successful implementation of public health measures within labs as a major success.

“Much of the laboratory research enterprise has, with vigorous safety protocols, been in limited operation for a long time now, and I think we have clearly shown that the workplace that we’ve established is far safer than life off campus in terms of transmission of Covid,” Stubbs said. “Those protocols have been really quite effective.”

Stubbs outlined the Sciences Division’s plans for a safe transition to in-person learning this fall.

“We’re going to embark on some pilot programs in the near future to extend on-campus scholarship, slowly incorporating other groups into the fabric of what we do, and go through the process of training, education, having people understand expectations for safety protocols, enrolling them in our testing program, and ensuring that we have compliance with expectations,” Stubbs said.

Stubbs said he is “guardedly optimistic” that a significant share of Harvard students, faculty, and staff will be vaccinated by the fall to permit a safer return to campus.

“It’s in our individual and collective interest to maximize the number of vaccinated people,” Stubbs said. “That is what is going to get us out of this mess.”

“Get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated,” he added.

—Staff writer Justin Lee can be reached at

—Staff writer Lauren L. Zhang can be reached at