President Elam updates the Oxy community on the College’s plans for the Spring 2021 semester and the continuation of remote instruction. Leer en español

Firstly, I want to acknowledge how challenging this semester has been for everyone. The resilience, flexibility and creativity you all have demonstrated since March has been extraordinary, and I have drawn constant inspiration from your example. Now, as we begin finals and approach the end of the semester, I know that the question on everyone's mind remains what will happen this spring.

In our last update in October, we pledged to keep you apprised of our plans. Today, we write to share an important update. Because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Southern California—one that parallels the dramatic increases seen statewide and nationally—Los Angeles County public health officials have indicated that they will not permit Occidental and other area colleges and universities to resume in-person instruction, or regular on-campus housing, by January. This means that we can announce with certainty that when we begin our spring semester on January 19, we will do so with remote instruction and a substantially limited residential program, just as we have this fall.

Certainly for all of us who were hoping to be back on campus, we understand this news is extremely disappointing on top of what has already been an incredibly challenging year. We have planned diligently for multiple scenarios, including those that would have returned more students to campus. Still, we understand how the data and COVID spikes in Los Angeles and across the country support the county’s decision. We recognize that many colleges and universities in other parts of the country have, to varying extents, been able to hold in-person classes and bring students back to their campuses. These schools, however, operate under very different systems of regulatory authority and the decisions of L.A. County public health officials have been driven by the recent record surge in cases and hospitalizations locally.

While the situation continues to evolve, here’s what we know today:

  • Academics: Classes will continue to be fully remote and will start as scheduled on January 19. We will have spring break as scheduled (March 8-12). Please note that during registration, there were a limited number of classes designated as in-person. All hybrid and many in-person designated classes will revert to remote format. If the learning goals of the in-person classes cannot be met remotely, these courses will be canceled, and students will be notified. 

  • Housing: The county continues to permit international students and those with housing hardship to live on campus. Those who have been living on campus this semester will be eligible to remain for spring (as we communicated to campus earlier this month). Last Wednesday, REHS emailed students a spring semester housing petition form for those students who are not currently on campus and who wish to live on campus because they are an international student or have a housing hardship.

  • Athletics: While we await official notification from SCIAC, Occidental has made the extremely difficult decision that we will not be participating in fall and winter sports in the spring semester of 2021. Specific decisions regarding spring sports have not been made at this time. We will continue to evaluate our possible options for those sports, pending the course of the pandemic. 

  • Campus Operations:  We do not have specific information at this time with regard to which buildings will be open, including the Academic Commons and athletic facilities. For now, students, staff and faculty should assume that the same operational model will apply. In early January, we expect to have more information to share. As conditions improve we anticipate opening additional spaces. We will also continue to work with academic departments, as we have this semester, to manage necessary faculty and/or student access to academic facilities.

  • Staffing:  Separately, we will send a message about how our spring semester operations will impact our staffing requirements.  

As we look ahead to spring, we remain committed to the health and safety of the community. To that end:

  • Students, staff and faculty who are living and/or working on campus will be required to get tested for COVID-19 twice per week. 

  • Emmons is planning to move to a rapid, self-administered salivary test. Results will be delivered within 24 hours directly to the patient through text message or patient portal.

  • Daily health checks will be accessible through an app downloaded on your mobile device. The same app will also deliver testing reminders and health updates.

  • Off-campus students living in the area close to the College will be invited to take part in the testing protocol. By signing up for testing, off-campus students will gain access to campus facilities and programs as they become available.

We realize that many of you may have questions about various aspects of spring. Might it be possible to bring some students back to campus later in the semester if conditions improve or vaccines become widely available? What about the possibility of an in-person Commencement? It’s simply too early to know right now but we will most certainly consider and prepare for these options. We will continue to follow county protocols, explore different possibilities, and will be ready to scale up operations if and when we are allowed to do so. It is also important to recognize that conditions can change quickly, and we will be ready to adapt our plans.

Starting the semester with remote learning is not what any of us wanted. Building on our experience this fall, we will do all in our power to develop active student outreach, fortify and sustain communities, and continue to construct engaging classes and internships, all in order to make this spring a vibrant and robust semester. With your support and participation, we will reaffirm our culture of care, especially in this time of pandemic.

If you have comments or questions about Oxy’s plans for the spring, please send them to Our team will do our best to answer you in a timely fashion as more information becomes available and/or direct your question to the right Oxy office. We will also post timely updates on our COVID-19 website.

Thank you.

President Harry Elam