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Northeastern plans for return to ‘normal’ semester for fall 2021

The Cabot Testing Center on the campus of Northeastern University in September 2020.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

A Northeastern University official said in a letter Tuesday that the college is planning for a “normal fall semester” after grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic for the past year.

In a letter to the school community, provost David Madigan said Northeastern is planning to return to a semester with “regular campus activities.”

“While COVID-19 will not be eliminated (it will likely be with us for years to come) the vast majority of scientific forecasts anticipate that the virus will be well under control by September,” Madigan wrote in the letter, citing “widespread vaccination” and the alleviation of the “care-giving burden” for faculty, staff, and students with K-12 schools returning to in-person classes.


Madigan noted that measures like wearing masks and testing will likely still be in effect, and the university will track public health data and inform the community if plans for the fall change.

Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean Claudine Gay said last week in an interview with the Harvard Crimson, the university’s student-run publication, that Harvard’s goal is “charting a path to a full return for our students, our faculty, and staff” for the fall.

Gay said in the interview that the university’s plans have to be flexible due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.

When the pandemic arrived last March, Boston-area universities shifted to remote learning, and some, like Harvard, urged students not to return to campus after spring break. When classes resumed in the fall, some universities offered alternate housing, like rooms at swanky hotels, to reduce the number of students living in dorms and implemented extensive COVID-19 testing plans. The pandemic upended the traditional elements of college experiences, like socializing, eating in dining halls, and studying in libraries.


Universities also weren’t spared by the economic impact of the pandemic. Enrollment plummeted at many New England colleges for the fall of 2020 and the pandemic intensified the financial pressures many small, private universities in the region were already under.

Amanda Kaufman can be reached at Follow her @amandakauf1.