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Dear Entering MA and PhD Students,

I hope everyone is well and that your summers are underway. I extend my congratulations to those of you who have graduated and my hope that deep summer offers some kind of restoration to each of you in the way that helps the most.

I am writing now to provide more details on our plans for the fall. As you are no doubt aware, academic institutions across the country have been planning (and re-planning) their reopenings ever since they closed in March. We, too, have spent a lot of time going through scenarios and hypotheticals and will continue to meet throughout the summer to prepare. At this point I’d like to share where we are with fall planning and what to expect over the next month.

New York City is reopening in phases. Our building has just opened this week to faculty and staff. But a full opening of our library stacks and study areas to students will not happen until Phase IV, and it is important to keep that benchmark in mind and understand that we don’t yet know when that will be. This obviously influences our own preparations for August and September, and we realize that how the semester begins may not necessarily be how it ends.

When fall comes, we will be ready. Our two largest courses, 500. Objects in Context and 502. Approaches to the Object, will be held on Zoom. This is because their large size (20-25) makes it much safer for them not to meet in the same place. But we also feel that their format—they are team-taught lectures—means that there will be less loss due to the medium. Our smaller seminars, however, are planned as in-person experiences, though we will Zoom everything for anyone uncomfortable with gathering in person. Our larger seminars will be held in our largest spaces, the Lecture Hall and Seminar Room, to ensure adequate distancing. If we had a football stadium or a gym, we’d use that now, too. Faculty will have autonomy over how individual classes may best be held during the fall (for a seminar with an invited lecturer who does not plan to be in person, it might make sense to hold that particular session remotely). We are still working out the details about particular classes and confirming with individual faculty their plans for their seminars. If there are changes and updates to the fall schedule, we will pass these along before August. And, of course, if we need to pivot to remote learning because of the pandemic for a period of time, we will be prepared to do so.

Thanksgiving week is the last official week of classes for fall term. Classes do not resume till the Tuesday after MLK day. Students will not need to be in residence during that period. If you choose to go out of state during that time, local regulations on travel and quarantine may apply. We will all have to be mindful of such things.

Orientation, which will still begin on August 19, is also being prepared both as an in-person and remote experience (and some combination of the two).

We’ve known since March that the fall would not be a return to normal. One of the mental exercises we’ve done is to identify the specific excellences of the intellectual experience we offer, and then try to devise ways of giving you this even in the absence of the “serious but informal” life we’re used to on West 86th Street. Our answer has been to focus on small group life, and on our outside spaces.

Orientation Groups: We will be breaking MA students into three groups (c 6 each) and the 5 entering PhD students as another. This will allow us to meet in person easily, and if we need to do some instruction by Zoom it will be more intimate and productive.

First Year Tutorial: MA advisement has always been an important part of this program. This year we are reconfiguring it as a more formal, and more discussion-oriented experience. You will be registered for a no-credit required “course” that will meet with your academic advisor, and her or his other advisees. The meetings will have a regular schedule and in addition to student life issues you will, by arrangement with the professor, also be able to explore topics either central to or at the margins of the curriculum. For instance, meetings may take the form of responding to pieces of writing read in class, or to talks presented in our seminar series or elsewhere online—it will be a way of tying together the intellectual and the human sides of your BGC experience.

Works in Progress: Our public academic events (lectures, symposia, conversations, etc) are an important part of the experience here, and as we are not holding public lectures at BGC in the fall, we have turned our programming inward, and each week a different faculty member will be giving what we call a “work-in-progress” seminar. This will give you an opportunity to learn more about the current work of our faculty, which may not only inform future class decisions, and maybe even research, but give you the chance to ask questions and engage with them. (If you want to think more about this dimension of our program, visit the page on our website devoted to the series “Where Research Meets Teaching.”)

Finally, I’d invite you to contact continuing students. They finished the semester on zoom (including “Objects in Context”) and can let you know how that class, in particular, worked remotely.

Looking ahead. You will receive the Orientation schedule later in July, and course updates by August 1. Bard Hall move in begins August 1, and for those moving into the city, they should reach out to Alec Newell to coordinate their arrival. We are also putting together a comprehensive document about returning to BGC for our community. This will contain new building protocols, new community health guidelines, and other information pertinent to reopening. This will be shared next week.

Do feel free to contact me or Keith Condon with any questions. You’ll hear from us again soon, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing you on 86th Street next month.


Prof. Peter N. Miller

Sincerely yours,

Professor Peter N. Miller