Harvey Mudd reverses reopening plans; joins rest of 5Cs in holding all classes online

A dormitory with walls made of beige metal panels and large glass windows.
Following guidance from county health officials, Harvey Mudd will shift to an entirely online fall semester. (Zoe Cowan • The Student Life)

Following new orders from public health officials, Harvey Mudd College announced Friday that it would reverse its plans to bring students back to campus for in-person classes. 

Mudd will move entirely online this fall, joining the rest of the undergraduate Claremont Colleges after nearly three weeks of standing as the only 5C planning to hold in-person class. The announcement comes less than a week before students were set to move in. 

“While we are disappointed not to be able to gather in-person in the coming weeks, we are committed to ensuring the deeply collaborative Harvey Mudd education you have come to count on will continue this fall, regardless of location,” wrote HMC President Maria Klawe in an email.

The reversal comes on the heels of new restrictions sharply limiting the ability of colleges to reopen in LA County, announced Wednesday by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.

Officials said colleges and universities must remain mostly closed “in the near term,” restricting on campus students to those who “have no alternative housing options,” and limiting in-person classes to those who are or will become part of the “essential workforce.”

“The very nature of the way that colleges and universities operate creates a significant risk of outbreaks of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff. And these risks extend beyond the campus into the broader community,” LADPH Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said in a press conference.

Mudd administrators held out hope that they would be able to bring back the 553 students who planned to return, but after a meeting Friday with LADPH officials, they said the college’s hopes of reopening had been dashed. 

“LACDPH made it clear that colleges and universities will not be allowed to have students in residence except under very limited circumstances. As a result, we have decided to only offer remote learning for our students for the fall semester,” Klawe said.

The LADPH cited high community transmission rates driven by people between the ages of 18 and 30 in making its recommendations on Wednesday. Friday’s meeting between Mudd administrators and the LADPH came just a day after California became the first state to total more than 600,000 coronavirus cases.

Caltech, which had also been planning for a fall return to campus, moved its undergraduate program entirely online on Thursday, citing LADPH’s new guidance.

HMC previously announced on July 1 that it would bring back all students who wished to return for a hybrid fall semester, with modifications to abide by state and county public health guidelines. 

Mudd planned to have students quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, and house some students off-campus to reduce the density of student housing. The college also had plans to perform contact tracing, but not to test students on arrival, or generally, unless they were symptomatic.

Additionally, Mudd had set aside 59 rooms for isolation and quarantine, and students were to be given cloth masks, hand sanitizer and digital thermometers, according to an FAQ page on the college’s website.

Of the 849 HMC students enrolled for the fall semester, 553 intended to live on campus, according to an Aug. 6 Board of Trustees update.

One of those students was incoming first-year Tanvi Krishnan HM ’24. She said the announcement left her shocked but relieved.

“I’m shocked, given all the previous information we had [about reopening], but I’m also pretty relieved. I was considering staying back, but I didn’t want to be left out since many freshmen wanted to go on campus,” Krishnan said via message. “But I think staying back is probably the safer option.”

Now, HMC’s fall semester will look much like that of the other four undergraduate Claremont Colleges, with wholly online classes and a closed campus, save for students with no other housing options. Students will receive information from the Division of Student Affairs about requesting off-campus housing in the next few days, according to Klawe’s email. Pomona College, Scripps College, Pitzer College and Claremont McKenna College announced in July that they would be going completely online.

Having anticipated it as a possibility for this fall, the college has already planned for distance learning, and will repurpose its #StaySafe@Mudd plans for when it is allowed to reopen in the future, according to Klawe. 

“We look forward to seeing you online this fall with the hope that we will all be together in person this spring,” Klawe said.

Classes for the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges are set to begin on Aug. 24. HMC will host a virtual Opening Convocation on Aug. 25.

This article was last updated August 14, 2020 at 8:30 p.m.

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