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Winter Term Update

December 01, 2020

To: The Caltech Community
    Kevin M. Gilmartin, Vice President for Student Affairs
    David A. Tirrell, Provost
    Thomas F. Rosenbaum, President
Date: December 1, 2020
Re: Winter Term Update

When we wrote in early November to provide an update on winter term plans, we noted that while public health authority restrictions and increases in COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County meant that we would not be able to bring significant numbers of undergraduate students to campus, we still hoped to be able to offer a small number of in-person laboratory courses for undergraduate students. We have worked closely with Pasadena and L.A. County health officials to devise acceptable protocols for their approval. Unfortunately, conditions nationally and regionally have continued to deteriorate rather than improve, and the county and city are reducing rather than expanding allowable activities. Hence we will not be able to expand our undergraduate instructional framework to allow for any in-person courses for the winter. In light of continued prohibitions on in-person learning, Caltech's undergraduate academic program for the winter term will continue as a remote-learning program only. Graduate students' laboratory work, which is an essential component of the graduate academic program, will continue at our current approved level of research operation.

We recognize that this announcement will be met with disappointment by many members of our community. Faculty, staff, and administration have been working hard to develop plans that would allow for a safe if limited return to some in-person instruction, and it is frustrating to all of us to find that those plans once again need to be set aside. However, without approval from county or city health authorities to change our current instructional and residential framework, and with the current disease trajectory precluding optimism for any near-term improvement, we cannot invite undergraduate students back to campus for winter term.

The Institute will build on the groundwork laid by our intensive discussions with the health officials to plan for the future, including a possible return to in-person undergraduate instruction in some form for spring term. We understand that, particularly for graduating seniors with outstanding lab course requirements, there may be concerns about progress to degree in time for graduation. Faculty within the options will be working either to create alternative online versions of outstanding course requirements, or to adjust degree requirements if alternatives are not possible. Information about such planning will be forthcoming, but we want to assure all students expecting to graduate at the end of this academic year that we will be able to provide them with a clear curricular path to do so.

For information about Caltech's response to the pandemic, and news and answers to frequently asked questions, visit the Caltech Together website at

It has been an extraordinary year, in which each of us has been required to adapt our plans and expectations as we have responded to the path of the pandemic. Thank you for your continued resiliency and ingenuity in these efforts. As we end 2020, we wish you well, and we look forward to the start of the new year and academic term.