Frequently Asked Questions

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RISD will open in the fall with students on campus in a de-densified model. Core studio and shop-based courses will be held in person and other courses will take place online or in a hybrid online-plus-embodied version. Those students, faculty and staff that return to campus will be subject to a multi-layered regime of health and safety protocols.

Yes, these plans could change if COVID conditions change and RISD has a back-up plan if this were to occur. We would offer all courses online, with core studios and shop-based courses offered in person during the 2021 Wintersession and spring semesters under health safety protocols. Learn more.

There will be some students for whom returning to campus in Fall 2020 will be impossible. Whenever possible, and depending on departmental learning goals, accommodations will be made for these students to continue their studies entirely online. See the divisional summaries for more information on programs for which entirely online instruction will be offered.

If you cannot return to campus in the fall and choose not to accept the option of an entirely online semester, or prefer not to return, you will need to apply for a leave of absence. You can find more information on this process here.

RISD Employees experiencing discomfort with returning to campus for their duties should engage in dialogue with their supervisor or Human Resources about their specific concerns. RISD maintains an existing fair and equitable ADA process by which faculty and staff may request reasonable accommodations to perform the essential functions of their job, found here.

RISD reserves the right to make the determination regarding accommodations, and the employee may otherwise consider alternative leave options available to faculty and staff.

Health and Safety

For Fall 2020 the RISD campus will be occupied at significantly lower density levels. Core studio and shop-based courses will be held in person and other courses will take place online or in a hybrid online-plus-embodied version. Wherever possible, employees will continue to work from home to keep the density of our campus as low as possible. RISD will limit unnecessary visits from outside the community to help reduce health risks.

Comprehensive health protocols will be put in place including mandated social-distancing measures. Masks, which will be provided to everyone on campus, will be required in studios, classrooms and public spaces. Screening, testing and disinfecting protocols have been established and a new respiratory clinic—a care center dedicated to evaluating people who may have COVID-19—will reside in Thompson House. If a student does contract COVID-19 or comes in contact with someone who has the virus, we have extensive contact tracing, isolation and quarantine processes in place.

All students will be required to complete a virtual training before they can begin classes. All student leaders (RA’s, AIR’s, Cultural Programmers, and Orientation Leaders) will be on public health practices, conduct policies, and social normings. All employees will also complete a virtual training before returning to campus and all new and returning faculty, both part-time and full-time, will undergo training prior to the start of classes that will provide guidance on social distancing protocols in classrooms/shops/studios. Learn more.

Students who need to be tested for COVID-19 can do so by visiting Student Health Services. Faculty and staff should contact their primary care provider to get tested. RISD will make options available to its on-campus faculty and staff for obtaining COVID-19 testing, where those employees do not have health insurance available to cover the cost of testing. Learn more.

Based on our research, as well as consultation with Keeling and Associates, we recommend that RISD focus on the use of diagnostic testing, initiated by symptomatology and/or contact tracing, supported by strict use of quarantine and isolation.

Mass testing of asymptomatic people has been proposed by several schools, however we have found that such testing does not have high scientific value, because it provides only a quick snapshot of a current condition, which could change within hours. We also do not recommend surveillance testing, which samples the population to track the presence of the virus, because the rates of false negative/positive results for low-prevalence groups may approach the population disease incidence (~1%).

Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 will be covered by the RISD student health insurance policy and the RISD employee health insurance policy at approved locations. RISD will make options available to its on-campus faculty and staff for obtaining COVID-19 testing, where those employees do not have health insurance available to cover the cost of testing. Hospitalization and treatment for COVID-19 is covered like any standard medical treatment.

Students who test positive for COVID-19, but do not need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment, will be required to isolate and will receive care from Student Health Services. Employees who test positive for COVID-19 but do not need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment will receive care through their primary care physician and will be required to isolate at home and contact their primary health care provider.

While we hope that the measures outlined will mitigate any widespread outbreak of COVID-19, we are prepared for various scenarios in which an outbreak might occur and have planned how we should respond, including circumstances that might warrant closing the campus. Learn more.


Yes, the Academic Calendar for AY 2020–21 has been adjusted to bolster RISD’s prioritization of public health. Learn more.

Core studio and shop-based classes will be taught in person; other studio classes will be taught partially in person and partially online. Learn more.

Yes, some departments and programs will continue to teach some or all classes online to help with the overall goal to de-densify the campus. Learn more.

Access to shops and labs will occur with social distancing practices in place. Deans and department heads will be in touch with faculty, students and staff about specific measures for their studios, classrooms and shops. In support of the de-densified studio classroom plans for Fall 2020, RISD will expand technical support to facilitate new requirements for in-person workshop use, including increased staffing, extended hours of operation, and, whenever possible, adopt a service center model for digital output of both 2D and 3D projects. Learn more.

No, all international study and travel courses, including the European Honors Program, have been canceled for Fall 2020.

Yes, the Career Center will deliver its advising, programming, and resources online throughout AY 20-21. Learn more.

Yes, these resources will be accessible through either virtual support, online and in-person appointments, or controlled-capacity entry to the physical spaces. Learn more.

RISD CE programs and classes will be primarily online for the 2020-2021 academic year. Moving forward, a limited number of classes will be hybrid and in-person located at the Westerly Education Center in Westerly, Rhode Island, and if it becomes feasible at Tillinghast Farm in Barrington, RI. Learn more.

The Teaching and Learning Lab will be offering resources and programming to support a more considered curricular transition to online and hybrid teaching next year. Learn more.

Support for the new LMS will be provided through Informational Technology Services and the Teaching and Learning Lab. Learn more.

The opportunity to cross-register with Brown University is available in the fall semester and will not be available in Wintersession or Spring (due to anticipated deviation in the Brown|RISD academic calendars). An exception will be made only for Brown University/RISD Dual Degree students in order to maintain progress in the program.

Campus Life

Students will move in over a four-day period based on a reservation system. RISD will require a quarantine period for all students arriving on campus. Learn more.

Yes, all students will be required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival on campus. Learn more.

Yes, we have changed our housing models to align with social distancing guidelines. Learn more.

Campus dining will still be offered but with new policies in place to ensure the well-being and safety of students and dining staff. Learn more.

Students living off campus are encouraged to follow all public health requirements regarding social distancing and educate themselves fully about RISD’s policies with regard to screening before coming to campus. Off-campus students will have the option to purchase a meal plan if they wish, but they will be prohibited from visiting on-campus residences. Learn more.

We will be providing an online orientation that will occur during the quarantine period. Learn more.

At this time, we plan on offering online programming and potentially some outdoor events or programming. Learn more at and

The RISD Museum is in the process of evaluating the safest way to welcome students and visitors into its galleries in early September. Learn more.

Working at RISD

Generally, faculty and staff should continue remote work arrangements unless otherwise required by their essential job duties and until further notice by their supervisors. Remote RISD employees should continue to follow remote work policies. Some positions will be designated as on-campus, and RISD has established new, interim procedures in response to COVID-19.

RISD maintains an existing fair and equitable ADA process by which faculty and staff may request reasonable accommodations to perform the essential functions of their job, found here.

RISD has expanded leave benefits to include COVID-19-related illness for the benefit of employees during this period. Learn more.

RISD Human Resources will work with employees and managers around effective remote work arrangements, including guidance and resources related to policies, procedures and best practices. Individual needs for technology and IT support can be indicated in the Remote Work Arrangement Request Form in Workday.

RISD Human Resources will work with employees and managers related to ongoing compliance with the College’s documented policies and procedures for their safe return to work. In addition all community members are expected to participate in educational and training programs that provide public health protocols. Learn more.

Financial Impact

The financial impact on RISD from canceling on-campus activity in spring and summer, lost revenues from room and board, continuing education and many related institutional activities, and initial FY21 adjustments for increased financial aid support totals approximately $20.4 million.

RISD expects the financial toll of COVID-19 to increase by at least another $30 million in FY21. This is because a significant decline in enrollment is anticipated in the fall due to travel and visa restrictions and delays alongside the continued uncertainty of how the pandemic will progress. In addition, there are significant new costs involved in opening in a de-densified manner, including reprogramming classrooms, studios, housing and dining; investing in safety supplies and protection; securing additional student housing; increased cleaning frequency; and developing multiple platforms for teaching and learning. Further, RISD will lose revenue that it typically relies on to support core operations because the institution cannot host public events, conferences, on-campus Continuing Education classes and other revenue-generating programs.

As a result, the total financial impact from the spring, summer and next academic year will be at least $50 million. This is 30 percent of RISD’s total yearly operating budget and 10 times the $5 million deficit challenge the college faced during the 2008–2009 economic crisis.

So far RISD has:

  • Used cash reserves of $7 million
  • Used CARES Act funding of $1.4 million (50% of which goes to direct support for students within a strict set of government parameters and the other 50% goes to COVID-related institutional support)
  • Reduced the FY21 capital budget by $3.5 million
  • Reduced the FY21 strategic plan budget by $1.8 million
  • Extended the hiring pause on most positions (beyond searches that were largely concluded for faculty positions and staff positions deemed essential), which saves $1 million from unfilled positions
  • Eliminated the proposed FY20 and FY21 target financial margins of $4.3 million
  • Reduced support budgets (food, travel, events) by $1.5 million
  • Reduced President Somerson and Provost Kleinman’s salaries by 15% and cabinet members’ salaries by 10% 

These actions total $21 million toward the $50 million deficit. 

To address some of the remaining deficit and avoid significant layoffs, furloughs and programmatic cuts, RISD has further reduced the FY21 capital budget by $.5 million, support budgets by an additional $3.7 million, and instituted an early retirement program to save $1.5 million. RISD is next trying to achieve $10.3 million in savings by adjusting compensation for all employees. Salary reduction percentages would be tied to salary levels to protect employees at the lowest levels of income in line with the college’s commitment to social equity and inclusion. The proposal – which all unions would need to agree to for it to go into effect – is: 

  • a one-year elimination of salary increases
  • a temporary, progressive salary reduction by level of income 
    • $50k and less = 0% salary reduction
    • $50-100k = 3% 
    • $100-125k = 5% 
    • $125-200k = 7.5% 
    • $200+k = 10% 
    • President & Provost = 15% originally planned, recently increased to 20%
  • a one-year elimination of the institutional retirement contribution
  • a temporary modification to the CE benefit so employees would pay 50% of tuition (currently they pay 0% tuition plus material fees) 

This proposal was recommended by the Budget Priorities Committee, the advisory body that includes four faculty members, three academic administrators and three students who collectively comprise a substantial majority of its membership.

RISD is continuing to hold discussions with its unions and hopes to come to an agreement. The college remains committed to not implement any strategy disparately across employee groups. 

If RISD is not able to reach an agreement with the unions, it will have to develop an alternative plan, which will unfortunately necessitate a much larger number of layoffs and furloughs and an immediate process to determine program cuts. 

The total of these actions are $36.5 million, short of the $50 million impact which will require further use of institutional cash reserves and borrowing from financial institutions (which will require repayment with interest in future years).  

Yes. Before any other compensation reductions were discussed, President Somerson and Provost Kleinman decided to take a 15% salary cut. They have since increased their compensation decrease to 20%.

To maintain its accreditation, the RISD Museum must follow the American Alliance of Museums’ professional and ethical requirements. The museum also adheres to “industry-standard” policies laid out by the Association of Art Museum Directors. Both of these professional groups have long-held standards which clearly state that proceeds from the sale of museum objects may be used only for future acquisitions. Recently, those requirements have been slightly relaxed to also allow for such proceeds to be used for “direct care of collections,” defined as conservation and other expenses that might protect jeopardized collections. Proceeds may not be used to support general operations.

Losing its accreditation would seriously threaten the museum’s substantial foundation and governmental support. Likewise, individual philanthropy could be significantly diminished. Other museums would be expected to refrain from any collaborations and partnerships with the museum as would contemporary artists and designers. And, because those requirements are also incorporated in the accounting and tax rules applicable to the museum, its tax status could be jeopardized. 

In short, the RISD Museum’s reputation and viability – and that of RISD as a whole – would be dramatically and irreparably damaged if RISD sold objects in its collection to cover operating expenses.

An endowment provides stable, long-term funding to an institution. So that an endowment can remain a stable source of funding in perpetuity, an institution should only use the interest earned on an endowment fund. An endowment should not be used as a savings account or rainy day fund.

Currently, interest from RISD’s endowment provides 7% of RISD’s operating budget, covering expenses including financial aid, salaries and departmental support budgets. If RISD depletes the endowment to cover the current deficit, it will deplete that interest and therefore operating revenue for years to come. This would result in an even greater reliance on tuition.

The endowment also serves as a resource to support RISD’s outstanding debt of $195 million. Reduction of the endowment will negatively impact RISD’s ability to meet its financial ratio and debt covenant targets required by our bond rating agencies and banks to maintain the cost of that debt and future ability to borrow money to maintain our facilities.  

Borrowing from the endowment is an absolute last resort and something that RISD’s Board of Trustees will allow only if the financial picture worsens substantially beyond current estimates. 

The Board of Trustees approved a tuition and fee increase of 3.8 percent for the academic year 2020–2021. The total cost of attendance, tuition, fees, and room and board can be found on our Student Financial Services webpage.

Students will continue to have opportunities to work on campus, although many jobs may be remote. All student employment wages will be paid based on hours worked as normal.

RISD increased funding for need-based scholarships and graduate fellowships by 23 percent. This will allow the Institution to provide more than $29 million in financial aid to students in 2020-21. If your financial situation has been impacted due to Covid-19, please email

The Department of Education has just released final interim guidance regarding the funding for students through the CARES Act. RISD is reviewing this guidance and is developing a policy to provide this emergency funding to students. More information regarding the policy will be available shortly.

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