Dear Directors of Graduate Studies,

At this time of great uncertainty, you play a critical role as a communication’s conduit between GSAS and our students and your faculty peers. All of us at GSAS are grateful for all that you are doing to support students in their academic endeavors and in their well-being: Thank you so much.

GSAS is working to review policies and develop resources that can aid you with this important responsibility. We know that students are coming to you with questions, so we are building a resource page to collect content you may need. One of the most important things you can do is to ensure that faculty are regularly checking in with their students to relieve the sense of anxiety and isolation they may feel during this time. Several programs have shared their communications with students, which include answers to questions and ways to remain socially connected during this time of physical distancing. On the resource page, you can view samples that you may want to draw upon as your program develops your own communications.

I also want to draw your attention to the following resources that can help students:

  • Maintaining work/life balance and reducing social isolation for students is crucial. The GSAS Student Center and many student groups are developing virtual programming, which can be found through the Engage platform. 
  • For students with mental health needs, Counseling and Mental Health Services is available to help. You can also share a link to Managing Stress
  • Students expressing financial need or extreme hardship can complete a request for emergency funding or reach out to their financial aid officer. 
  • The Accessible Education Office remains open virtually to ensure GSAS students can access their learning and teaching environments. Students who would like to request accommodations in order to teach or learn remotely should contact the AEO directly.

Academic Progress
The closure of labs and libraries has, understandably, created concerns regarding academic progress and requirements. Given the extraordinary circumstances, GSAS is reviewing academic policies and considering longer-term issues that may arise. So far, we have made the following changes to existing policies: 

  • With the approval of GPC and Claudine Gay, an emergency policy has been approved that will allow GSAS students to petition to take courses SAT/UNSAT for spring 2020 only, with the approval of the instructor and the student’s home program. This allows students, instructors, and programs greater flexibility in accommodating individual circumstances and will relieve some of the pressure our students are feeling at the moment. Students wishing to petition would be required to get email approval from the faculty member and then forward that email to the department. The department, if they approve, would then forward the email to the Registrar’s Office (, which will process the change.
  • GSAS has also amended the dissertation acceptance certificate requirement for students who cannot include the completed DAC when submitting their dissertation; students may instead submit an email or letter of approval/acknowledgment from the chair or DGS.
  • Greater flexibility on timing will be given to students who have activated their dissertation completion fellowships.

We will update you as additional guidance becomes available.

Health Care
GSAS has received several questions from faculty regarding students’ remote access to health care if they are no longer on campus. If a student is enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan, they will not be responsible for any costs related to COVID-19 testing nor office visit consultations  when they seek care from a Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) PPO provider. If students come to you with questions, please direct them to the most updated information on the Harvard University Health Services website.

GSAS Residence Halls and the HUDS Meal Plan
As part of the plan to limit the number of students living in close proximity, the University is moving students to housing with a 1-to-1 bedroom-to-bathroom ratio. GSAS students housed in Vanderbilt Hall have been relocated to Esteves Hall on the HBS campus and those living in the GSAS Residence Halls have been relocated to the Radcliffe Quad. If your program includes students who are now living in Esteves, I would appreciate it if you would check in with them and let us know of any concerns. The GSAS Student Center and GSAS Commons dining hall will remain closed after spring break, and HUDS will provide grab-and-go meals to students on the meal plan at an alternate location.

By now, you should have received an invitation to attend a Zoom meeting in lieu of our scheduled DGS luncheons. I would appreciate it if you would review the resource page and our Coronavirus Q&A in advance and come prepared with questions and suggestions for improvement. At any time, please share the questions you are getting from students so we can provide you with the information and resources you need to respond.

Financial guidance regarding graduate student work for the spring 2020 semester
The University continues to evaluate the shifting administrative landscape during the Coronavirus pandemic. Graduate student work, as part of that landscape, is an essential driver of the University’s mission. Where possible, the University expectation is that the work that graduate students are compensated for should continue. If work assignments are not possible to complete using online or distance learning technologies, supervisors are encouraged to find other opportunities for graduate student workers to complete their work commitments, including shifting jobs and job descriptions to alternate assignments in order to fulfill their employment obligations. If this is not possible, graduate student workers who are unable to work due to the pandemic will still be compensated to the end of work expectations within the spring 2020 semester.

To keep you informed, GSAS regularly forwards communications sent to students. It is imperative that you review these emails so that you are prepared to answer questions from students (we forward these to graduate program administrators as well). Please do not unsubscribe from these emails, as you will no longer receive communications that come to DGSs directly.

Thank you for being such thoughtful partners in this work, and for all you are doing to help students navigate these unchartered waters. I hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy.

All the best,

Emma Dench
Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History and of the Classics

Coronavirus updates for DGSs