Flexibility in Returning to Grounds: Jim Ryan’s Latest

This afternoon, Jim Ryan sent out an email to the UVA community detailing the plan for the Fall at UVA. Students will have the choice whether or not to return to grounds. UVA will be expanding their J-Term options and summer session options next year to help students spread out their course load at no additional charge. In addition, students, faculty, and staff will be required to track their symptoms daily using an app. Read the email in its entirety below:

University of Virginia
To the University Community,

We hope this note finds all of you well during this incredibly difficult time for our country and the world. With so much uncertainty these days, we write to provide a measure of clarity on one issue we know many of you have been wondering about: our plans for the upcoming academic year at UVA.

Last month, we sent a letter outlining our decision-making process and some of our thinking about the fall. Today, our goal is to share a more complete framework for the next academic year. We have a good deal of information to cover, so we will be as concise as possible, providing details about, among other things, our academic plans (including new options that will increase flexibility for undergraduate students), residence and student life, public health measures, and our focus on equity during this process. Much more information and FAQs are available on our new Return to Grounds website and Fall 2020 Student Resource site, which will be updated frequently to convey decisions and information.

Here’s the basic plan:

Return to School

This summer we are phasing in our return to on-Grounds academic life. Guided by public health requirements, we are in the midst of a return to research in our labs; several schools have welcomed professional school students; and we are planning for more in-person educational offerings later in the summer. We do this planning even as we plan for the fall.

Assuming federal and state guidelines allow it, we plan to start the fall semester on time—with undergraduate courses beginning on Tuesday, August 25th. First-years and other students living on Grounds who wish to return will move in on a staggered schedule over several days. (Start dates for our graduate programs are available here.)

For our undergraduate schools, there will be no fall break, and in-person instruction will end by Thanksgiving. In an effort to minimize travel and possible transmission of the virus, students will not return until the new year. Students will receive more information about what will happen after Thanksgiving from individual schools.

Academic Options and Flexibility

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for students and their families. For that reason, we have adapted so that students have additional options this coming year.

We are welcoming all students who wish to join us to be back on Grounds. Unlike in the past, however, we have designed this fall so that students can take courses from wherever they are. (The few exceptions will be practicums and other courses that require a specific in-person experience for licensure.) While we hope and expect that many students will return to Grounds, we also know and appreciate that others will need to or choose to stay in their home communities. Regardless of where students are, our aim will be to provide all of them an engaging and enriching academic experience.

Because of social distancing requirements and their effect on our classroom capacity, large classes will be all online. We will, however, offer as many in-person classes as we can. For classes and sections offered in-person, there will be a remote option for students who are not on Grounds. The deans and faculty in every school are thinking creatively about how we can maximize the number of in-person classroom experiences; decisions about which classes will have an in-person option will be made based on the format of each class, our classroom capacity in light of public health requirements, and the availability of faculty instructors to teach in person. Students can expect to hear more from individual schools in the coming weeks and no later than the end of July, which is before the start of the add-drop period.

We have also created an option designed to offer undergraduate students more flexibility while still earning a full year’s worth of academic credit. In addition to fall and spring courses, every undergraduate student will have the opportunity to take a January term course and a course in the first summer session of 2021. While these courses normally require the payment of additional tuition, next year they will be included within the regular tuition for fall and spring semesters. To enhance our offerings, we are designing new, interdisciplinary courses for the January and summer terms. These courses, tailored specifically for this year’s new and returning students, will be taught by professors from across the University and will explore some of today’s most relevant topics—from the science of pandemics, to racial justice, to analyzing the 2020 election. Most students will therefore have the option, depending on their degree program requirements, to spread out what would normally be taken in fall and spring over fall, J-term, spring, and summer. Schools will provide additional guidance on this, and you can find more information here.

Finally, as always, undergraduate students will be able to request a deferral (gap year) or leave of absence. The deadline for new students to apply for a deferral through the Office of Undergraduate Admission is July 1st, and current students may request leaves of absence according to individual schools’ policies. Students who plan to live in the dorms will be asked to confirm whether they plan to join us in the fall by July 1st.

Our graduate and professional schools are thinking creatively about how to tailor their programs to these new conditions. Deans of graduate and professional schools will be communicating directly to their students about plans for Fall 2020 in their respective schools.

Faculty and Staff

The success of every aspect of these plans depends on the dedicated and talented faculty and staff of this University, whose health and safety is of paramount importance. Just as we know that some students will not return to Grounds this fall, we know that even with the extensive precautions we describe below, not all faculty, staff, and graduate teaching assistants will be in a position to resume in-person work and teaching.

We will make every effort to grant requests to work or teach remotely or for other reasonable accommodations or modifications in light of COVID-19. We are mindful that individual circumstances make some individuals more vulnerable than others to the effects of this disease. As always, employees entitled to reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act will receive them. Beyond that, we will prioritize requests for modifications from those who are at higher risk for severe illness, as well as anyone with a household member at higher risk. Outside of those categories, we will make every effort to grant reasonable modification requests. As deans, department chairs, and managers plan for the fall, they will work with Employee Relations and HR Business Partners to honor requests while considering the impact on and constraints of research, curricular, student, and workplace needs. We are keenly aware that each individual and unit of the University is as unique in our needs, constraints, and opportunities for flexibility as we are united in the common goal of excellence in teaching, research, and patient care.

Just as faculty, staff, and graduate teaching assistants may currently request modifications directly from their dean, department chair, or supervisor, those comfortable making COVID-19-related requests through those channels are free to do so. Anyone concerned about privacy or confidentiality may instead submit this form to Employee Relations. Schools and units will follow up with additional details about implementation and timing. Let us say in advance: We know how much we have asked of you already this year, and we know how much what lies ahead will require of you and of us. We are beyond grateful.

Student Life

First-years and other students living on Grounds will be in double rooms by default, as they have been in years past, and will be able to choose their roommates. We made this decision in consultation with medical and public health professionals, and we are making changes to residence halls and bathrooms to reduce risk. Students in residence halls will be assigned to specific sinks, stalls, and showers, and we will be limiting the number of students allowed in a communal bathroom at any given time. Housing and residence life staff will work with residents to apply social distancing guidelines to all communal spaces and to make additional changes, as necessary, such as assigning specific doors for entry and exit.

In-person dining on Grounds will be provided consistent with social distancing requirements and will include more options for takeout. While many activities will be held virtually, there will be opportunities for in-person gatherings and events that meet university and public health guidelines. We are also developing additional guidelines, including around limiting travel to and from Grounds. Those decisions are being made now, and we will share more information once we have it.


We are planning for fall sporting events to be held on Grounds, and student athletes will be hearing from coaches about steps that will allow them to train and compete safely. We have not yet made final decisions about fan attendance, but we will communicate plans to our ticket holders and supporters as those decisions are made.

Public Health Measures

We have made and will make every single decision about our plans in close consultation with physicians and public health professionals.

Every student, faculty, and staff member who will be on Grounds this fall will have to meet certain health and safety requirements designed to keep members of the UVA and broader community safe. Students and their families will receive details about these requirements over the summer and will be asked to agree to them as a condition of returning to—and remaining on—Grounds.

While parts of our plan are evolving, some parts are settled and will include the basics we all know well by now: social distancing, the wearing of face coverings, encouragement of frequent hand washing, and enhanced cleaning of the environment. We are modifying our facilities to operationalize these essential elements that help prevent the spread of the virus. As noted above, dining will be available, but modified consistent with these basic rules. Libraries, labs, studios, and study rooms will be open, provided they can accommodate social distancing and other health requirements. Anyone sharing a classroom, lab, dining hall, lounge, or other common space will need to maintain a six-foot distance for any contact longer than 10 minutes. The University will enhance its cleaning of these spaces, including classrooms. Face coverings will also be required in common spaces, and physical barriers will be provided in libraries and in public-service locations like dining hall cashier stations and help desks. We will be providing all students, faculty, and staff with personal protective equipment, including masks, and will be installing hand sanitizing stations across Grounds.

We are creating, in concert with the Virginia Department of Health, a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan that will include students, faculty, staff, and members of the community. We have settled on some of our plans (outlined below), and we continue to evaluate others. In the latter category, we are still evaluating the options for testing our students for COVID-19, including whether we will test all students upon arrival. We will make an announcement on that in the coming weeks. Below, however, are the elements of testing strategy that are settled:

  • Students, faculty, and staff will be required to track their symptoms daily using an app.
  • We are and will continue to offer testing to anyone who exhibits symptoms.
  • In addition, we will make available voluntary testing for faculty, staff, contract employees, and students who are concerned and may not exhibit symptoms. These tests will be available through an online schedule.
  • In partnership with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), UVA will help support voluntary testing of community members.
  • We are working closely with the Virginia Department of Health to effectively trace contacts of anyone who contracts the virus.
  • Once classes start, we will perform testing and other monitoring to assess the prevalence of viral infections; we will be monitoring Grounds closely and respond with increased testing to detect any asymptomatic or presymptomatic cases anywhere where our examinations suggest there might be a cluster of cases.
  • We have plans to isolate students living on Grounds who test positive for the virus, and to quarantine students who have been exposed.

Our testing and community tracing plans raise important issues of privacy, and we are committed to protecting the privacy of student records and health information. That commitment will guide us as we create protections that will limit access to that information consistent with relevant statutes like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). More information about our plans and these privacy protections will be available in the coming weeks.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that both expert knowledge and developing technology around COVID-19 continue to evolve quickly. Relying on our expert team, we will be closely following all of this, and will stand ready to modify our plans in light of the best information and technology.


The steps above are designed to keep students safe, protect all faculty and staff, and prevent the spread of the virus in the broader Charlottesville community. In this case, the actions of even one person can affect many others. Keeping people healthy—and keeping students on Grounds—will require all of us to do our part.

For that reason, and consistent with our strong tradition of student self-governance, we are working with students on a set of expectations that will govern student behavior on and off Grounds. As noted above, students will receive details about the public health requirements that will apply next year and will be asked to agree to them as a condition of returning to and remaining on—Grounds. In addition, the undergraduate and graduate student members of our Fall 2020 committee are deeply involved in this effort, along with a diverse and inclusive group of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. This work will continue in the coming weeks, aiming to design and implement a campaign to promote social-distancing behavior and the other essential elements of our public health strategy. Any student who has suggestions or ideas about the campaign may submit them here.


Faculty, staff, students, and parents will receive more specific guidance in the coming weeks, and all the latest information, as well as an updated list of frequently asked questions, can be found on the new Return to Grounds website and Fall 2020 Student Resource site.

We will continue to work around the clock on our plans to re-open the University and welcome back our students, faculty, and staff. In the coming weeks and throughout next year, we will continue to rely on our team of experts tracking the evolution of the virus and the related public health guidelines that could affect our plans.

As noted at the outset, as we prepare and then implement our plan, our work will focus on equitable treatment of the most vulnerable members of our larger community, including our students with financial challenges, our employees whose work exposes them to particular risks, and members of the greater Charlottesville community who are affected, deeply, by our actions and to whom we must be good neighbors and partners. As we move forward in our work, we will put together a working group of students, faculty, staff, and community members whose singular focus will be on issues of equity related to our return to Grounds and next fall.

Finally, please understand that some or all of what we are sharing today could change based on the spread of the virus, the advice of public health experts, or an order by the Virginia Department of Health. We sincerely hope that will not be the case, but our top priority will always be keeping our entire community safe—and we will let you know if circumstances require us to adjust.

All of this will make life—and this semester—more difficult, but our hope and expectation is that we can come together in these extraordinary times and make the best of an incredibly difficult situation. Doing that will require flexibility and patience. But if the past is any indication, this year will also push us to be more creative, inspire us to be more selfless, and in many ways bring us closer together than ever before.

This is a special community that has done some amazing things over the last few months, and we will need to summon that energy and spirit once again in the fall. We look forward to working with all of you to meet this moment and make this coming year a memorable and successful one.


Jim Ryan

Liz Magill

K. Craig Kent
EVP for Health Affairs

J.J. Davis
EVP and Chief Operating Officer


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here