7.31.20: Lehigh Update on Fall Semester

A message sent to students, faculty, staff and families.

Dear Members of the Lehigh Community and Lehigh Families,

We are writing to update you on Lehigh’s plans for the Fall semester. Throughout the course of the pandemic, we have been deeply appreciative of your flexibility, patience and trust as we work to support the health and safety of our entire community and to deliver an exceptional Lehigh academic experience during these challenging times.

Since we announced our intention in mid-June to open our campus for the Fall semester, we have closely monitored local and national rates of COVID-19 infection, consulted with numerous health professionals and implemented significant measures to make our campus as safe as possible. The number of states considered high-risk with large COVID-19 case numbers continues to grow; many are areas where our students currently live, greatly impacting our quarantining capacity for those returning to campus. Access to testing has become more limited as resources are diverted to hotspots. We have been clear that the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and Bethlehem community will guide our decision-making.

Given current conditions, we have determined we must limit the number of undergraduate students living in on-campus housing and will invite only first-year students and students with extenuating reasons of personal or academic hardship back on campus for the Fall. Students coming from states designated as “hot spots” by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must self-quarantine for 14 days, either in Pennsylvania or another location not listed by the Commonwealth just prior to arriving on campus. The same is expected of those returning to our off-campus community. New international students traveling from other countries are encouraged not to travel to campus at this time.

The Fall semester on-campus housing plan will decrease the number of students per common bathroom and lessen the potential of transmission. All students will be assigned to single rooms and Gryphons will be assigned to each floor. To further reduce the risk posed by COVID-19, we will limit access to campus facilities, including residence halls, and students will have access to academic facilities only as needed for their academic programs. University libraries, the University Center and athletic facilities will operate under strict health and safety protocols, including potentially limited access. Access to these facilities may be further restricted later in the semester if conditions warrant.

Limitations Imposed by the Pandemic

This has been a difficult decision. We know well the value of the Lehigh residential experience, the benefits of close relationships with faculty, and the social and emotional development that transforms the lives of students. Curtailing these elements of the experience is deeply disappointing, but absolutely necessary.

The arc of this pandemic is ever-evolving, as we all know. While we hold out hope for the Spring semester that conditions and trends will allow more members of our community to return to campus, we do not know what the future holds. We are also prepared to act if conditions deteriorate.

We want to be clear that first-year students who choose to reside on campus will have an experience unlike any in the past. Extracurricular and social opportunities will be extremely limited. Students whose living circumstances allow them to learn remotely should strongly consider doing so and wait until we can open campus more fully. Students living off campus will similarly find access to campus very limited.

Robust Academics

Courses in the Fall semester will be offered remotely, in person and in a hybrid mode. Almost all courses for the Fall semester will be accessible remotely, and there will be a limited number offered in a hybrid mode and a relatively small number offered in person. We have invested in expanding and improving our approaches to online instruction and remote learning, and faculty have risen to the challenge of teaching remotely.

Fully Remote Tuition

We have confidence that remote learning will offer students a rigorous academic experience, allowing them to make progress in their degree plans. There will be a 10-percent reduction in undergraduate tuition for the Fall semester for students who choose to take classes fully remotely. These students, whether they live in South Bethlehem or elsewhere, will not have in-person access to campus facilities, with the exception of the Health and Wellness Center.

Research and Graduate Studies

Research at the university has successfully ramped up over the summer. On-campus research is being conducted in accordance with health and safety guidelines. Graduate students will work with individual faculty members and departments on continuing their progress.

Undergraduate students engaged in research can do so with the permission of the faculty advisor. These students must complete the safety training required of all those engaged in research activities and abide by the health and safety protocols and procedures in place.

Health Protocols and Testing

All Lehigh students, faculty, staff and contract workers will be required to wear face coverings on campus, adhere to social distancing requirements and avoid large gatherings on or off campus. Those on campus and those off campus with access to campus facilities must submit on a daily basis their health status and the presence of any symptoms through the COVID-19 Self-Assessment tool, available through HawkWatch. Students on or off campus with symptoms should report them to the Health and Wellness Center immediately and will be tested for the virus. Faculty and staff with symptoms should stay home, communicate with their supervisor and consult with the Lehigh Valley Health Network occupational health service that has been established for employees. Our testing plan for students living on campus will be presented in a follow-up message to those being invited to live on campus.

We look forward to the time we can fully and safely open our campus. Our ability to accelerate that opening will depend in large part on the behavior of our students, faculty and staff and the continued willingness to make the sacrifices needed to slow the spread of this insidious virus. We are confident we will come together as a community and support each other during this extraordinarily difficult time.

Whatever your individual circumstances, you will be receiving much more detailed information over the next several days. An information hotline has also been established for general inquiries between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. EDT toll-free at 888-347-1966 from July 31 through August 12. Please check our website often for additional information, where you can also find contact information for specific Lehigh offices.  

This will be a different Fall semester for all of us. The grit and determination to press forward and succeed despite challenges is a hallmark of Lehigh University. The value of a Lehigh degree and the rewards of teaching and learning and working at a remarkable institution with a shared sense of purpose motivate us and, we sincerely hope, you as well.

We thank you for your understanding and your commitment to Lehigh. We are all in this together, and we will meet this challenge together. 



John D. Simon ’19P



Nathan Urban  

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs


Patricia Johnson

Vice President for Finance and Administration