10.29.20: Spring 2021 at Lehigh University

A message sent to Lehigh students and families

Dear Lehigh Students and Families,

We hope this email finds you safe and well.

We know that many students and families are faced with challenges none of us could have imagined a year ago. This pandemic has created new challenges for students—academically, socially and emotionally.

Lehigh students, and our entire community, have risen to the challenge. It hasn’t been easy. There have been bumps along the way, but we are proud of our students’ commitment to keeping yourselves and others safe and healthy and of the grace and resilience you have demonstrated. We want to thank you and your families for your patience and understanding.

At this point in the semester, we are well into the 2020-21 academic year and about three and a half months from the start of the Spring 2021 semester on February 1.

Looking ahead, information about how the spring will proceed is important as you plan for the remainder of the academic year. Subject to changes due to the spread of the virus and other external factors, we wanted to begin providing information about key aspects of the Spring 2021 semester. We will share more specific information in the coming days and weeks regarding our plan.

Spring 2021 Overview

Our experience in many areas over the fall semester is serving to help us develop plans for the spring. These include: implementing significant enhancements in the area of academics and remote instruction; bolstering our staff and operations at the Health and Wellness Center; providing access to rapid COVID-19 testing for symptomatic students; expanding our surveillance testing program for students, faculty and staff; enacting robust isolation, quarantine and contact tracing protocols; implementing rigorous prevention and mitigation plans in classrooms and other settings such as dining halls across campus; limiting higher-risk activities such as large gatherings; and adapting campus operations to changing conditions to mitigate the spread of the virus in the community.

Applying what we have learned and what has proven successful this past fall, our goal for the spring is to:

  1. Modestly expand our on-campus residential capacity;
  2. Increase the number of courses that have and require in-person participation; and
  3. Further expand our COVID-19 testing protocols as we look to increase the number of students on campus

Our plan aligns with our focus on delivering an exceptional Lehigh experience and supporting the health and safety of the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities. Its execution assumes the spread of the virus in the spring will be similar to the levels seen throughout the early part of this fall and that the current surge we are seeing locally and across the country will subside before mid-January.

The senior leadership team and leaders across the university are engaged in a thorough and ongoing assessment of our operations, including classes, housing, dining, health and wellness, libraries, and communications. This assessment will help us to modify plans to better meet the needs of students, faculty and staff and to keep our campus safe and open now and through the spring. Feedback from our community, including several surveys of students, has also informed our planning.

As a reminder, February 1 will be the first day of classes, and the university will cancel Spring Break, previously scheduled for March 15-19.

Residential Capacity

In the spring, we plan to allow students currently living in residence halls to remain in on-campus housing and intend to modestly increase our fall undergraduate housing capacity.

Approximately 1,250 undergraduate students are currently living in on-campus housing. All students currently living in residence halls can retain the same room for the spring. They do not need to apply for housing and do not need to remove their belongings from their current room before Thanksgiving break unless they choose not to return to on-campus housing for the spring.

We are determining the final number of undergraduate students we can accommodate in on-campus housing. With the opening of the new Singleton, Hitch & Maida Houses, we can house an additional 200 students on campus who do not currently have spring housing in Bethlehem. We are also re-evaluating the density of students living in all of our residence halls and the use of university housing for quarantine or isolation space to determine how many students we can house safely on campus.

Student organization participation, including Greek life, will continue remotely, with some in-person programming. The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs has worked with chapters to develop virtual recruitment plans and procedures; as such, Greek housing will not be used for residential purposes in the spring.

Undergraduate students in the categories below may request to live in a residence hall for Spring 2021. Spots will be filled in the following order:

  • Newly matriculating students, including transfer students, who will be enrolling in their first semester at Lehigh
  • Students in special circumstances such as those whose living environments impede academic progress
  • Seniors currently living out of the Bethlehem area who have academic needs to be on campus for completing graduation requirements
  • International undergraduate students who were newly enrolled in the fall, but who were unable to arrive on campus for the Fall 2020 semester
  • Sophomores

It is possible that the capacity of our residence halls will not allow us to house as many sophomores as request rooms. If this occurs, we will implement a housing lottery to make assignments based on the spaces available.

As was the case in the fall, we cannot safely provide housing for all students who wish to live on campus. Our decision is guided by the best available information about what is safe given anticipated conditions. It also reflects our analysis of the lessons learned from the fall.

Additional information regarding how to retain your on-campus assignment and how to submit a housing application will follow from Housing Services in the coming days. Also, we will inform you of the move-in dates.

Classes and Modes of Instruction

For the fall, we focused on making almost all classes available to students regardless of their location. This resulted in many classes being taught predominantly remotely. The work done by faculty over the summer to prepare for this change was largely successful, with overall levels of student satisfaction being comparable to those observed in previous (non-COVID) semesters, according to student surveys. We will continue to make courses on the critical path to graduation available remotely so students can make progress towards their degree.

We recognize, however, that many students prefer and learn best with in-person instruction and many faculty are interested in teaching in person. We are planning to increase the number of courses with in-person participation. Information about which courses will require students to participate in person will be made clearly available as part of the registration process. Additional details about the approach to teaching will be available on college websites in advance of the start of registration.

Travel Outside of Bethlehem During Semester

We ask all students to avoid travel as much as possible outside of the Bethlehem area once they arrive for the spring semester, except for emergency circumstances, as this will reduce the risk of infection and transmission of the coronavirus. This includes trips home to visit family and friends, and especially to other college campuses or for related social activities.

For students who travel outside of Bethlehem during the semester, their return to campus will require a COVID-19 testing protocol and may require a 14-day quarantine if they traveled from a state declared a “hotspot” by the state of Pennsylvania.

Requests for Fully Remote Status

All enrolled students will be required to provide accurate information about where they will be located in the spring semester.

Undergraduate students not wanting to access campus in any way may request to be designated as “fully remote” and receive a 10 percent reduction in tuition. This reduction does not apply to graduate programs. Those who request to be fully remote forgo access to in-person classes; spaces such as libraries, gyms, campus buildings, and outdoor facilities such as patios and tent space; and participation in any on-campus activities such as student organization-sponsored programs or events, possible spring semester athletic events, or any increased campus access that may occur as the semester progresses. Fully remote students will not be able to enter any campus buildings and will not have swipe-card access to campus facilities. All students, regardless of status, will maintain access to the Lehigh Health and Wellness Center.

Based on our experience in the fall, some fully remote students living in the Bethlehem area are likely to interact with students attending classes and accessing campus. Therefore, as a health and safety issue, any fully remote student living in the Bethlehem area will be subject to the same testing and reporting requirements and the same code of conduct as the students who are not fully remote.

For example, all students living in the Bethlehem area, including fully remote students, must report the results (positive or negative) of any COVID-19 test taken and must participate in surveillance testing and contact tracing efforts. In the coming weeks, we will provide students information about how students can request to be designated as fully remote.

Health, Safety & COVID-19 Testing

We are revising several aspects of our plan for COVID-19 testing for the spring to incorporate what we have learned from the fall and also to respond to changes in the availability of testing and new testing technologies. Further detail will be provided early in the new year.

Fall protocols will continue as follows:

  • All undergraduate and graduate students living in the residence halls and/or accessing campus are required to follow a “return to campus” testing and quarantining protocol. Testing will be coordinated with residence hall move-in dates.
  • All students, staff and faculty accessing campus are required to complete a daily health assessment.
  • All students, staff and faculty accessing campus are required to complete training on safety procedures and rules.
  • All students are required to comply with mandatory testing requirements and contact tracing efforts.
  • COVID-19 related violations are expedited and strictly enforced through our code of conduct process.

Additions to our protocol will include as follows:

  • We will increase the frequency and levels of surveillance testing, especially early in the semester when cold weather will keep people indoors more of the time.
  • We currently plan to start with weekly random surveillance testing of approximately 50% of all students living in Bethlehem and adjust this fraction as conditions warrant.
  • All students living in Bethlehem will be required to participate in our surveillance testing and contact tracing programs even if they declare that they are “fully remote” and are not requesting access to campus. This change reflects the fact that testing in the fall revealed a higher rate of transmission in students living off campus and the recognition that some students who indicated that they were fully remote routinely interact with students attending classes and otherwise engaging on campus.
  • We also will make surveillance testing available to faculty and staff who have frequent on-campus interactions.

Our experience and that of other universities suggest that the keys to preventing transmission are:

  • Limiting gatherings at which mask-wearing and social distancing do not occur—especially gatherings that involve eating and drinking.
  • Limiting exposure of students to people in areas with high case rates.


  • In-person classes and other in-person activities can be practiced safely if everyone follows the guidelines on masks and distancing.
  • Outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities.

We will continue to underscore the importance of these points, to align our policies to encourage safe practices, and to call on all members of the community to do their part through consistent mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing, and engaging in responsible social and behavioral norms that support the health and safety of the community.

Events and Gatherings

Continued or further restrictions on events such as Commencement and the size of gatherings will be dependent on conditions in the spring.


The Patriot League has not yet made a final determination regarding spring competition. All spring Lehigh athletics training, conditioning and practices will align with the university’s established health and safety and testing protocols. Athletes training with teams using university facilities and supervised by coaches cannot opt to be “fully remote.”

A Safe and Successful Spring

We wish, just as all of you do, that we were looking ahead to a typical spring semester. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hasn’t left us, and we must continue to protect ourselves and each other. We appreciate your support as we work to provide a safe campus experience for as many students as possible while delivering to all our students a high-quality Lehigh education during these challenging times.

The information hotline has been established for general inquiries. Call 610-758-1500 to speak with a Lehigh staff member during the following hours:

  • Today, Thursday, October 29, through 5:00 p.m. EDT
  • Friday, October 30 - 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. EDT
  • Saturday, October 31 - 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. EDT
  • Monday, November 2 - Friday, November 6 - 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. EST

Please continue to check our website often for additional information. We will provide more detailed information in the coming weeks.


John D. Simon ’19P


Nathan Urban

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Patricia Johnson

Vice President for Finance and Administration