Harvard Law School expects robust, high-quality online program for the fall 2020

The continuing public health crisis, limited availability of testing, and the need to give students time to plan informed HLS’ decision to continue remote teaching and learning next semester

To better ensure the health and safety of its community amid the global pandemic, Harvard Law School (HLS) programming will be remote for the fall 2020 semester, Dean John F. Manning ’85 announced Wednesday in messages to students, faculty and staff. The news comes nearly three months after the HLS joined Harvard University in transitioning to remote teaching, learning, and work during the spring semester as the novel coronavirus began to spike in Massachusetts.

“We have all hoped these past few months that the upcoming academic year could begin, at least in part, on campus,” he wrote, citing among the concerns “continuing health risks of the pandemic, advice from public health experts, and the very real concern that testing will not yet be available on the scale or frequency needed to adequately monitor COVID-19-related illness in the Harvard community.” Although the public health situation may evolve by the end of August, Manning explained that the School needed to announce a decision now in order to give students time to plan for the fall.

The dean emphasized the School’s ongoing efforts to ensure the excellence of remote teaching and learning, as well as other forms of community engagement. “The Harvard Law School faculty is already hard at work adapting their teaching plans in order to offer the best online courses and clinics possible. … We also have been working to identify and develop channels for creating meaningful interactions and connections outside the classroom and for supporting the extracurriculars that are an integral part of your law school experience.”

To assist students who face difficult learning environments at home, who have technological challenges, or who live in distant time zones, Manning announced plans to make available up to $1 million through a new Technology Assistance Fund “to help our students address technological obstacles to participating fully in online learning.”

Recognizing that “an online learning experience may not be optimal” for all students, the dean also said HLS would offer an additional deferral period (June 15 through June 19) for newly admitted J.D. and LL.M. students and also extend to June 19 the deadline for returning students to apply for a leave of absence.

“We very much hope that you choose to remain in what we expect to be an exciting and enriching online academic and social program,” Manning wrote in his message to students. “But we want to be sure that you have a fair opportunity to make a decision that is right for you based on the best information we can provide you at this time.”

Manning concluded by highlighting the difference between the semester just passed and expectations for the fall. “Last spring, we had to adapt quickly to new formats and unexpected locations for learning and teaching,” he wrote. “This coming semester, though, asks something different of us—to use technology to design even more creative, exciting, and excellent experiences in support of learning, building community, and engaging in the service that helps those most in need and that is fundamental to the work lawyers do. This is our work now, as we take this next important step together.”