Responding to COVID-19: Fall 2021

May 27, 2020

Dear Weitzman Community and Incoming Students,

I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy, and you have been spared the losses faced by so many in our communities. I continue to be awed by the extraordinary resilience, creativity, and compassion demonstrated by Weitzman faculty, staff, and students. We have made sacrifices great and small in recent months, but by acting in the public good, we have also helped to keep people safe while carrying out the mission of the School. 

As the pandemic has taken its toll on personal, social, and financial well-being, the voices of designers, planners, artists, and preservationists have become more important than ever in mapping a recovery, strengthening our cities, and protecting the planet that sustains us. For those of you who are joining the Weitzman community beginning with the Fall 2020 Semester, we are looking forward to adding your voices to the dialogue.

I’m sure that you are eager to know what the fall semester at Weitzman will look like, given so much uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Please know that our overarching goal is protecting the health and safety of students, faculty and staff, while carrying out the educational, research, and community engagement mission of our school. While no one can guarantee what the future holds, we wanted to share what we know at this time, and to outline some of the possible scenarios that we, along with the University administration, are exploring, as well as the precautions we are taking to protect your health.

A Hybrid Experience – Online Courses and Some In-Person Instruction

Although Weitzman staff and faculty are working hard to prepare for in-person, on-campus classes and studios, we will be guided by public health considerations in making a determination about what is ultimately possible. As they did this spring, these considerations call on us all to be nimble and imaginative. We anticipate that we will conduct many classes online, particularly large lectures; However, because of the different teaching approaches taken by the departments in the School, the approaches for the specific degree programs will vary, with the possibility of some being fully remote. We want to assure you that online classes will be in subjects or parts of subjects that lend themselves to remote learning, and that we are confident that our high standards of education will not be compromised. We have learned a great deal about remote learning over the past six-weeks, and we are using the summer months to invest in technology, training, and other resources to strengthen the online experience for students. At this time, our goal is to conduct studios and other highly collaborative, hands-on courses and seminars on campus in small groups for at least some portion of the fall semester for students in most programs, assuming that public health guidelines and government directives make this possible.

Planning for A Return to Campus

In every instance, our on-campus operations will conform to the guidance of our state and city health authorities. To this end, we are planning to institute various measures to ensure the health and safety of all members of our community while on campus. These include:

  • Re-configuring seating and workstations to meet social distancing guidelines, including adding Plexiglas barriers in certain locations;
  • Increasing building signage to better organize traffic flow and minimize traffic and bottlenecks in Weitzman buildings;
  • Adapting course schedules and re-allocating or re-programming spaces to minimize the number of occupants in our facilities at any given time; 
  • Requiring occupants to wear appropriate protective gear (e.g., masks) in accordance with guidelines from local, state, and federal public health authorities;
  • Implementing ongoing health monitoring so that individuals who show symptoms for COVID-19 stay home and self-isolate;
  • Regularly changing air filters on the multi-filtration air handling systems in each of the School’s buildings; and
  • Instituting more rigorous disinfection/cleaning protocols throughout our buildings.


Extending the Academic Year: Summer 2021

In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines in the fall—and, if called for, the spring of 2021—we anticipate expanding our course offerings for some of our disciplines and programs in the summer of 2021. In doing so, we stand to conduct more instruction on campus, while offering flexibility for both new and continuing students.

Summer 2020 @ Weitzman

Just as we have adapted our programs to the online learning environment, we are committed to providing ongoing intellectual and professional support over the summer, and expanding the virtual activities available to nurture and challenge you. I invite you to join us for a range of online lectures, workshops, webinars, and other interactive experiences – some of which are available to incoming as well as continuing students. Some of these programs will be offered by individual departments, while others are open to the entire school. To learn about programs that are open to incoming students, and students outside of the presenting department, visit the Calendar of Events and Exhibitions on our website.

What Remains True Today

It’s our people who make Weitzman a leader in design, teaching, and research, and that remains as true today as ever. Our faculty are committed to upholding the reputation of a Penn education and supporting students in realizing their most ambitious visions for a safer, greener, more just world. Despite the upheaval around us, the faculty continue to advance their research, earning the most important grants and awards in our professions, and involve students in their work whenever possible. In many cases, they are producing work that will be integral to our cities’ recovery from the public health crisis. Our resourceful and dedicated staff are working tirelessly to make sure that our students have the resources they need to be successful. And our students are among the most talented, creative, and compassionate in the world.

Your department will provide additional updates and more specific details within the next few weeks, as new information becomes available. Our goal is to follow the lead of the University and notify you of more specific plans no later than the end of June. In the meantime, we wish you safety and good health.

Thank you again for your patience, flexibility, and mutual support.

Very truly yours,