Fall 2020 Plans

Dear Cooper Union:

In my email to you a few weeks ago, I indicated that our aim was to make a decision by mid-June about how we will operate this fall in the context of COVID-19. While there are still many unknowns with respect to the trajectory of the virus over these next few months and as we continue to await further direction and guidelines from the state of New York, I want to share the plans we anticipate based on the information we have today.


As you may know, last week, New York City entered Phase One of the Governor’s four-phase reopening plan for the state. Currently, colleges and universities are part of Phase Four. If the current levels of new COVID cases and hospitalization rates continue to hold, New York City can expect to enter Phase Four on or around July 20. It’s important to recognize, however, that this date could change if New York City begins to see a surge in new cases and hospitalizations. On Thursday, the state provided a brief overview of the guidance for reopening colleges and universities in New York. Schools will be required to address four considerations: a reopening plan, a containment plan, a monitoring plan, and a shutdown plan in the case of a resurgence. Additional guidance is forthcoming regarding protocols for building and classroom occupancy, the use of personal protective equipment, testing and screening, and a host of other factors that will impact the extent to which we can reopen our buildings.

To ensure that we’re ready, our deans, faculty, and staff have planned and strategized for months about how best to engage students in a Cooper education, seeking student feedback and contemplating multiple scenarios given how much is still unknown as New York City begins to reopen. As I have previously shared, our work has been guided throughout by four key commitments:

  • Uphold The Cooper Union’s educational mission;

  • Protect the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff;

  • Engage students in an experience that is compelling, rich, and inventive; and

  • Sustain the long-term viability of the institution.

We have learned a great deal since March when the Cooper experience as we knew it changed dramatically. Looking ahead, we recognize that some students will not be able to return to New York City or may have significant health-related concerns about being in New York this fall. We also know that we can’t predict the trajectory of the virus nor the timeline for when treatments and vaccines will be available, the impact of yet-to-be-determined public policies, or human behavior as stay-at-home orders are released. We’ve considered these elements throughout the planning process and have evaluated a multitude of scenarios to account for a wide variety of public health contexts, sought the direct input of faculty and students regarding the virtual learning experience this spring, exchanged information with our neighboring and peer institutions, and monitored daily the still-evolving reopening guidelines and directives of New York’s city and state agencies.

Our goals are to make it possible for students to continue their education from anywhere, to accommodate the wide range of health-risk profiles and family circumstances within our community, to limit the spread of the virus, and to maximize flexibility so that our approach can transition smoothly should circumstances change.

Moving Toward Fall 2020

The academic calendar remains unchanged. Classes will begin on Monday, August 31, and the semester will end on Friday, December 18 as originally planned. We know that many schools are altering their academic calendars to anticipate the timing of resurgences and, for residential campuses, to limit the flow to and from their campuses after students leave for the Thanksgiving break. We believe that we need to plan for resurgences to occur at any point during the semester and have crafted a plan that will enable us to limit on-campus activity after the Thanksgiving holiday, or anytime, should that be necessary.

All formal classroom and studio teaching will continue online so that:

  • We can ensure consistency in the formal program of classroom and studio instruction so that no students are disadvantaged if their personal circumstances prevent them from coming to New York.

  • Students can continue their education remotely if, for example, international or domestic travel or health concerns prevent someone from being in New York. Our planning is designed to make sure that this remote experience is a rich and rigorous one. Some lab and project courses will allow students building access to take full advantage of our laboratory resources, but courses will not require that students access our buildings.

  • We can free up space in the buildings for physically distanced student studio space and labs. This is something students repeatedly told us was important throughout the feedback process. Our ability to make these spaces available will be contingent on further direction from the state and an ongoing assessment that adherence to building protocols maintains an adequate level of safety within our buildings. To the extent that we can safely open our shops and fabrication and maker spaces, we will operate them with physical distancing and scheduling protocols to minimize health risks within our community. We anticipate that the AACE Lab will be fully operational for digital fabrication, with staff available to receive and distribute student projects if presence in the building is limited by state mandate and/or appropriate health-related protocols.

  • We can more seamlessly flow in and out of virus resurgences. The stability of this plan will make it possible for faculty to plan with greater certainty, allowing for smoother transitions for students in the likely event that a resurgence once again limits physical presence in our buildings.

This approach will be adopted Cooper-wide with each school and faculty implementing specific plans as required by their pedagogy and curriculum. A message from your dean with additional details will follow.

We know that many students are trying to determine their housing situation for next year. Please know that we are committed to adhering to this plan through the spring semester. While possibilities for greater physical presence may open up in the spring, students will not be penalized for continuing in the same format as the fall. If you applied for student housing, Student Affairs will be in touch with you soon to let you know what is available and what the building protocols will be.

One of the things we learned over the course of this past semester was how many opportunities our virtual setting opened up to make renowned speakers and what have previously been school-specific events available to a broader community. We are carrying this momentum into the fall semester with exciting plans for new public programming within and across disciplines. In addition, we are developing new community-building programs and mechanisms to further connect students with each other and with faculty and staff. A message from Dean of Students Chris Chamberlin will come to you over the summer to outline these new opportunities.

In preparation for reopening our buildings, we have developed comprehensive protocols for Cooper’s building operations and maintenance – many components of which have already been implemented. We expect conditions in New York City to continue evolving, and as we learn more, we will incorporate revised protocols about how and when to reopen our facilities. We are preparing a detailed “Returning to Cooper” guide that we will release in August to reflect the most up-to-date guidance. It will include protocols for social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE) that must be worn in the building, testing requirements, required screening upon entering the building, contact tracing and quarantine practices for when a member of our community tests positive for COVID-19. 

Our building safety practices, including PPE, testing, screening, and physical distancing, are already being piloted by the limited staff who have been coming to Cooper to maintain the safety and security of our buildings and to begin to prepare our buildings for the fall semester. The pilots have all been running smoothly, and we will begin to scale them up as we are able to bring more people back according to Governor Cuomo’s phased reopening plan. Our protocols, informed by public health experts and consistent with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and state health agencies, will be published in print and online and shared community-wide in August to reflect the most up-to-date expert guidance and state directives as these evolve. The facilities team has been working closely with the schools to create physically distanced workspaces for students who wish to access studios, labs, and shops. That work will continue through the summer as we identify which pieces of equipment can be operated within appropriate health and safety protocols and as we receive more specifics from the state about what will be possible.

Updates, Information, and Resources to Be Shared Throughout the Summer

Each of our academic programs, as well as our Offices of Enrollment, Student Affairs, Building & Grounds, and Human Resources will be communicating directly with you throughout the summer with more details and information as we gear up for fall 2020. We will also be establishing a new Fall 2020 Information Hub where all of our information and resources will be posted.

In the meantime, if you have questions about any of the following topics, here’s who you can reach out to:

Topic Link



Admissions and Enrollment

The entire staff will receive and help through this email address


Financial Aid/Scholarships

The entire staff will receive and help through this email address


Student Housing

Grace Kendall, associate dean of students


Campus Buildings/Facilities

Natalie Brooks, chief talent officer


New Student Orientation

Chris Chamberlin, dean of students


International Students

Hala Alkasm, assistant director of international student advisement


Tech Support

Robert Reinckens, chief technology officer


Student Physical and Mental Health Support

Cassandra Jolicoeur, student care coordinator


Library Resources

Lisa Norberg, acting director of the library


We know you will have many questions. Please let us know what they are so that we can answer them and aggregate them into a list of Frequently Asked Questions to share with our entire community.

A Historic Moment

Our plans for the coming academic year are being formed at the intersection of a global pandemic and a global awakening, a moment unlike any other in our lifetimes. While this juncture brings many uncertainties, it also reminds us of the fortitude of the Cooper community and deepens our resolve to address the critical challenges and opportunities of our time. Much of life as we knew it has changed, and with this disruption has emerged an opportunity to forge new paths forward, to draw on the creativity, intent, and passion that have defined The Cooper Union over the course of its history, to shape a present and a future in which we can all thrive.

This is a simultaneously tragic and galvanizing moment in our history. We have been reminded of the ways in which we are inextricably connected in this world and the stark reality that we have not yet found a way to share it equitably. I cannot think of a community in which I would rather be in a collective search for new ways of living, of learning, and of moving toward a more just world than the community that defines The Cooper Union. I have great confidence in our work together to forge this transformative path, and I look forward to our continued journey forward.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.