Yale leaders talk about COVID-19: First in a series
Today we begin publishing a series of interviews with Yale leaders about the university’s response to the pandemic. We debut with President Peter Salovey.
Yale Today: You implemented a series of public health measures last week: asking Yale students to remain off campus when possible; moving classes online; requesting faculty members, graduate students, and other researchers to develop contingency plans for their projects; reducing staff presence on campus to those serving critical functions and asking others to support the continuity of university operations by working remotely if possible. What did you prioritize and what factors did you consider when making these decisions?
President Peter Salovey: My top priority is the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff and of individuals with whom we interact outside of our campus. We have a moral obligation not only to protect ourselves from illness, but also to do our part to prevent the spread of the disease to others, especially to those who may be most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. We are taking swift and bold actions together to flatten the curve of the rate of infection, which will reduce the risk that our hospitals will become overwhelmed.
Yale is fortunate to be home to world-renowned experts in public health, medicine, and nursing. My decisions are based on their advice and the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies. As a leading global research university, we have a responsibility to demonstrate to others the importance of taking actions based on scientific evidence. And we have done so as a community. Our students, faculty, and staff have been exemplary in handling this abrupt and unexpected disruption to our work and lives by embracing what Yale’s experts are telling us to do. Our community is working hard to safeguard public health while maintaining the continuity of Yale’s mission of education, research, and scholarship. We also are sharing our expertise broadly.
Yale Today: You mentioned that you have been speaking with leading experts at Yale about how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to advising the university on its response plan, what are some of the things that they are doing?
President Salovey: Yale is fortunate to have three excellent schools in the medical sciences: the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, and the School of Public Health. What makes a research university so unique is that we are putting the empirical findings of our faculty and students directly into practice to protect everyone’s health.
In addition to advising us on how to prevent the spread of the virus, our faculty and other investigators are exploring treatments for the disease and conducting research to inform vaccine development. Vital research on COVID-19 also is taking place in other areas on our campus — as is signature of Yale, we are tackling this global challenge from multiple disciplines. For example, the Yale School of Management’s Edward Kaplan, the William N. and Marie A. Beach Professor of Operations Research, is modeling how the disease spreads to help inform public health decisions.
Yale Today: This is a historic moment for higher education in this country. For the first time, universities are moving classes to virtual formats and encouraging remote scholarship and research whenever possible. How will this impact the Yale community in the long term?
President Salovey: Although this is a radical change to how we come together as a community of scholars to learn from one another and create knowledge, our mission remains the same. In fact, our response to this pandemic demonstrates that we are steadfast in our commitment to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. The entire university is focused on protecting public health while maintaining central services to support teaching and learning, and research and scholarship.
What we are doing now will make us more resilient to the challenges that our world will face in the decades ahead. Urbanization, ease of travel, and climate and environmental changes increase opportunities for diseases to spread. The solutions we are working hard to implement now will make us more capable of overcoming pandemics in the future. Recent events make clear that what we choose to do today affects lives around the world and has a profound impact on our future.
But for right now, we are focused on the well-being of the Yale community in the coming days, weeks, and months. There is a lot to do, and together, we are doing it.