Plan for 'Hybrid' Instruction in the Fall | Columbia Journalism School
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Plan for 'Hybrid' Instruction in the Fall

Find below an important communication detailing the J-School's 2020-2021 reopening plans.


Dear Admitted Students, 

We hope this letter finds you well, safe and in good spirits. We are living in times we will long remember as journalists, citizens and members of our families and communities. 

We are writing as promised to describe our plans for “hybrid” instruction during the fall semester — that is, our plan for a mix of in-person and online teaching. This letter follows on an important communication on July 7 from Lee C. Bollinger, the President of Columbia University, about Columbia’s overall approach to hybrid teaching during the next academic year. We urge you to read President Bollinger’s letter, which is aligned with our more detailed plan here. 

Before we get into the details, we want to note that for journalists, this has become a summer of urgent importance, as earth-shaking stories such as the coronavirus pandemic, protests against police violence against Blacks in America, and China’s political takeover of Hong Kong roil our world. In the U.S., this has also been a season of self-reflection about ideas long taught and debated at our school, such as what journalistic “objectivity” means, how to increase representation of journalists of color at major journalism institutions, including our own, and how to debate such questions in an atmosphere of free exchange. In short, this is one of the most electrifying moments in journalism that many of us on the Columbia faculty can recall. We look forward to sharing it with you soon. 

Now, to our plan. Our goal remains to provide during the fall semester as much in-person teaching and as many field reporting opportunities to our students as possible, as long as this is consistent with the safety of our students, our faculty, the Columbia community and the people we report on. 

New York has staged a dramatic recovery from the suffering the city endured in the spring, and if this progress is sustained, we plan to provide significant in-person teaching, one-on-one counseling and carefully supervised field reporting opportunities to our students in the fall. 

Over the next few days and in the weeks to come, we will be communicating with students in the various degree programs about the specific scheduling and course structure for each cohort. 

We have already started to implement our plan for limited, closely supervised field reporting by students during the fall semester. This summer, we are conducting a supervised field reporting system for documentary and other enrolled Journalism School students. Students must write out a reporting plan that includes public health protocols, transportation, and other specifics — just as reporters at major newsrooms in the United States often do these days. A faculty supervisor and dean must approve the plan. If public health conditions allow, we will adapt this approach for other classes as deemed feasible. 

We know that while some of you want as much in-person experience as possible, others of you may have medical conditions or other concerns that cause you to prefer to learn and work remotely. Our plan will seek to accommodate both kinds of students. This fall, no student who does not wish to attend a class in person will be required to do so. Students who have such conditions or concerns should contact Melanie Huff as soon as possible. 

Our plan to offer hybrid instruction and to conduct some field reporting has important qualifications. We write to you in early July as the coronavirus pandemic continues to follow an unpredictable course. Again, our policy will be to provide as much in-person and field reporting experience as possible, consistent with the safety of our students, faculty, the Columbia community, and the people we report on. Public health conditions in New York — and laws affecting what Columbia may or may not do — could change rapidly during the remainder of the summer or at any time during the coming academic year. If it is necessary for your safety and the safety of others, we may be forced to revert to online-only teaching without much advance notice, for an unknown period of time. We can offer no guarantees.. 

Our plans for in-person teaching and field reporting have been informed by detailed advice of Columbia University’s world-class public health scientists and doctors about how to proceed in the safest possible manner. All students, faculty and staff arriving on campus in the fall will receive COVID-19 tests and ongoing health monitoring. PPE will be available. Click here for more information on Columbia’s COVID-19 public health planning. 

We are fortunate to have our own building, Pulitzer Hall, which has rooms large enough to accommodate our teaching plan. Since May, we have been working hard to prepare Pulitzer Hall for the fall, implementing public health protocols. We have invested in technology to allow simultaneous in-person and remote teaching and discussion. 

Our building plan also draws on Columbia’s public health advice. Face coverings will be required. Only two people will be able to ride an elevator at one time. Stairways and hallways will be marked for one-way flow. New touchless bathrooms have been fitted in our building. Many of the rooms where we will teach in person have windows that can be opened. Class schedules will be staggered to reduce crowding. And because we earlier split the MS class into two cohorts — one starting in August and finishing in May, the other starting in January and finishing the following August — Pulitzer Hall will be less crowded in the fall than typically. Please refer to this link for the calendar for different cohorts of students. 

We know that international students have special challenges and concerns about the coming year. We will continue to provide the best information we can about shifting visa, travel and policy issues. This week, the Trump Administration added to its record of assaults on international education in the United States. On Monday, the administration published a new proposed rule that would prohibit international students enrolled in online-only college or graduate programs from entering or remaining in the United States. We at the Journalism School strongly endorse President Bollinger’s statement denouncing this policy. 

The International Students and Scholars Office at Columbia provides updates and resources for international students. Please feel free as well to contact Melanie Huff as well. The visa and travel rules affecting international students in the fall are fluid and likely to remain so. 

Stay well, and we will speak to you soon. 



Steve Coll, Dean Sheila Coronel, Dean of Academic Affairs Melanie Huff, Associate Dean of Students