Dear Students,

The past few months have been both stressful and full of uncertainty. Among the sources of uncertainty have been the ongoing questions about what the fall semester would look like. The university continues to develop the definitive framework for the fall 2020 semester, which it expects to announce in July, subject to guidance from New York State. In the meantime, Law School planning for the fall semester also continues.

I am writing to update you on the Law School’s working plans. Obviously, the situation remains a fluid one, and so these plans represent the Law School’s current thinking, based on our best assumptions about where we will be in August. We will be constantly assessing the situation and may need to adjust these plans to ensure that whatever we do is consistent with the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, as well as the forthcoming guidelines from the university and from New York state.

Fall Start: Even if the university adopts a revised academic calendar, the Law School plans to commence classes as scheduled the week of August 24. Instruction will then run uninterrupted without a fall break until Thanksgiving. All classes will be held online during the week of September 7 while the Law School building is used for Cornell alumni to take the New York State Bar Exam.

Fall Classes: Both students and faculty will have the option to elect to participate in fall classes online. As a result, some classes will be held in person and some exclusively online, but even in-person classes will have an online component.

In the classroom, students and faculty will need to observe social distancing protocols. Students must wear masks within the building – including within classrooms – and faculty will wear either a mask or face shield while teaching. Although we are awaiting the University’s final guidelines, we estimate that social distancing in the classroom will have the effect of reducing capacity in most classrooms by approximately 80%. As a result, classroom space will be at a premium. We will be assigning access to classroom space on the basis of the perceived pedagogical or other institutional need for in-person interaction or instruction.

If, as is likely in larger courses, more students wish to attend in person than the Law School can accommodate in the classroom with appropriate social distancing protocols, we will employ an equitable rotation system for students in the course to cycle between in-person and remote attendance.

Professors will hold office hours and other one-on-one student meetings online rather than in person.

Fall Class Schedule: The Law School Registrar is currently rebuilding the fall schedule from scratch to account for these changed circumstances. Students participating in upper level courses remotely will be expected to participate synchronously if the class falls between the hours of 8am and 8pm in the time zone where they are located. Outside those hours, they may choose to participate either synchronously or asynchronously. In either case, “attendance” will be mandatory for all students participating remotely.

Due to the need to maximize the use of classroom space, students can expect classes to extend across the full week and later into the evening than would normally be the case. Some classes may also be taught using a “flipped classroom” model, with asynchronous material coupled with opportunities for small group or individual interaction with the instructor.

Study Space: Library services and books will remain available through processes to be published by the Law Library. Students may have limited access to study space in the Reading Room and in the carrels on the ground floor. Seating capacity will be restricted, with six-foot physical distancing maintained.

Exams: Fall semester exams will be held online after Thanksgiving. The law school is working with outside vendors to pursue electronic proctoring of online exams to promote exam integrity.

Grades: We will return to our standard grading policy for the Fall semester.

Staff Support: Many Law School staff will continue to work from home during the fall semester, in order to reduce density within the Law School building. Individual departments will work to ensure a high level of responsiveness and accessibility to meet student needs.

Spring Semester: The Law School will make determinations about Spring semester instruction as soon as possible.

There are obviously many more details yet to be worked out – not least of which is the final Fall 2020 course schedule, which the Registrar is hard at work assembling. But I thought it would be helpful for you to get the broad outlines of our working plan as it is taking shape, subject to the caveat that the situation continues to evolve as the University finalizes its plans for the Ithaca campus as a whole. Please feel free to email me at if you have any questions. Dean Miner and I look forward to answering your questions at an upcoming Coffee and Conversation on Thursday, July 9th from 5-6 p.m. (Eastern). And, wherever you are, please continue to stay healthy and safe.


Eduardo M. Peñalver
Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law
Cornell Law School
Myron Taylor Hall