May 26, 2020: COVID-19 Update

For the latest updates visit COVID-19 Updates.

Dear Members of the RISD Community,

I write today with news about the state of our planning for the 2020–2021 academic year. As you might know, early last week five working groups assembled by the Office of the Provost delivered the report Reopening the Campus AY20–21 to Cabinet. This report provides background research and recommendations regarding how RISD should operate for the 2020–21 academic year. It is shaped by three goals for our institution’s response to the current pandemic: public health and safety, academic integrity and financial viability.

The report provides two visions for how we might deliver our education over the next academic year amid the expected presence of COVID-19:

  1. A radically De-densified Campus with students on campus subject to a multi-layered regime of health safety protocols in which core studio and shop-based courses are offered in person, and other courses are offered via remote means or in a hybrid remote + embodied version. Staff would continue to work in a combination of remote and on-campus work as designated.
  2. A Remote Fall scenario in which all courses are offered remotely in the fall 2020, and core studios and shop-based courses are offered in person during the 2021 Wintersession and spring semester under health safety protocols. Relevant employee strategies would be adjusted to this model.

Cabinet has spent many hours reviewing the details of the report and debating together how RISD should advance the next academic year. Individual members consulted outside expertise and many served on several state and cross-institutional committees and attended informational work sessions. It is our conclusion at the moment, that the De-densified Campus option best meets the three goals referenced above. However, because this report focuses primarily on the feasibility of this option from an academic perspective, we have significant details to work through to ensure that this is a truly viable plan across all aspects of campus life.

Therefore, we have quickly developed an implementation framework consisting of eight task forces to begin to address a network of complications to ensure it is possible to move in this direction. Over the coming days, many of you—students, faculty and staff alike—will be asked to participate in some form or another. You can view the task force charges and memberships on the RISD website. I have asked Provost Kleinman and SVP Proulx to lead formulation and oversight of the task forces. They will be working together closely to align academic and operational implementation.

In addition, the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Board of Trustees are currently reviewing our report and will provide feedback shortly. By June 15 we will formally announce our plans for the fall semester.

If we decide that the de-densified campus option is best for RISD, we acknowledge that we are basing our decision on the information available to us currently. Should we move forward with a de-densified campus we must—and will—build flexibility into the plan as so much remains uncertain.

I understand that you will have numerous questions, feedback or insights to share. I welcome them. However, I may not be able to provide an adequate response immediately because so much remains in flux. I encourage you to email me directly and I will work with Provost Kleinman and SVP Proulx and all of senior leadership to reply to each of you.

Thank you to everyone who participated on the five working groups as well as those across our community who contributed their expertise through interviews or by providing information or data requested. Your work successfully foregrounded the next stage of planning.

RISD will overcome this crisis if we work together. We will need to make difficult decisions over the coming weeks and months, some we never expected to be faced with. But guided by our values and a set of decision-making principles that we have outlined, we will do so with integrity, transparency and humanity.

Rosanne Somerson

Information & Support Resources

If you are a student in need of any kind of assistance, please contact For staff and faculty, our 24/7 confidential employee assistance program (EAP) is available to you, your dependents and members of your household through our partner, AllOne Health (1-800-451-1834).

The Center for Student Involvement is organizing many virtual gatherings each week. Find out what is planned and subscribe to Word Out to stay up-to-date on events and resources.

Everyone on campus must wear a face covering when in all RISD facilities, except when you are alone in private offices or rooms. If you do not have one, please contact Public Safety Deputy Chief Anna Brookes at

For the latest information from RISD on COVID-19 and answers to frequently asked questions, please visit

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