Yale leaders talk about COVID-19: Pericles Lewis, vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives

Lewis discusses remote learning, holistic admissions, and the impact of COVID-19 on Yale’s broader educational policies.
Pericles Lewis

Pericles Lewis (Photo credit: Michael Marsland)

This is the latest interview in a series

The move to remote instruction and other university-wide shifts occurring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have far-reaching impacts. What are the important aspects of Yale’s guidance on these matters?

We were somewhat fortunate regarding the timing of the switch to remote education. Just before spring break, we became aware that we might have to move some or all of our classes online. That gave us two weeks to prepare. The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning did a great job, training hundreds of faculty and teaching fellows, first in person and then, once the stay-at-home orders were in place, by phone or video-conference. As a result, there were relatively few technical problems when the majority of the university’s classes started to be offered via Zoom and other technologies on March 23. Faculty and students have really risen to the challenge.

Yale has also implemented changes for university-sponsored summer travel and campus-based programs in the interest of public health. All in-person campus-based summer programs at Yale and visits to campus are postponed until June 28; and all university-sponsored international travel is prohibited through August 15. The university is also asking all members of the community to avoid non-essential domestic travel. Of course, we will lift these restrictions as soon as the public health situation permits us to do so.

It is heart-breaking to have to postpone or cancel summer programs. Many of our students rely on these programs as part of their education, and we are trying to offer as many of them as possible in online or remote formats. But, of course, we are in extraordinary times.

Yale has affirmed its commitment to holistic admissions. What message does this send to potential applicants to Yale’s undergraduate, graduate and professional schools?

We recognize that students everywhere will be working under very different conditions this semester. It is therefore important to us to reassure potential applicants that we will take the need for sudden transitions to online teaching and other COVID-19 response measures into consideration when considering them for admission in future years. We know that many educational institutions have shifted to a pass/fail grading model to address these challenges, and in some cases, students are given the option to accept a specific letter grade or a generalized pass/fail in consideration of pandemic-related disruption. We believe in having the utmost flexibility for students to manage these challenging times.

In light of these shifts, Yale clarified its commitment to holistic admissions, specifically recognizing the challenges to teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Provost Scott Strobel’s recent message affirms that in evaluating applications, admissions offices at Yale will take the significant disruptions of this semester into account when reviewing students’ admissions materials.

Yale has for some time been a leader in holistic admissions, and with this statement we are assuring applicants that the provost and deans are unified behind this commitment, which extends from Yale College to our graduate and professional schools. We were glad to see that several peer universities approved similar policies.

What impact has the pandemic had on Yale’s broader educational policies and practices?

In general, we aim for all Yale students to be able to complete their degrees with the maximum amount of flexibility while still getting the best possible education. The faculty of each school at Yale determines the relevant grading policy with reference to this principle. Some schools at Yale have switched to pass/fail, while others are leaving students the option of various other grading systems that were in place before spring break and the decision to finish the semester online.

More broadly, we are devoting all our energy to delivering as much of a Yale education as possible, notwithstanding the inability to meet in person. President Salovey has articulated Yale’s aspiration “to be the research university most committed to teaching and learning.” I am very proud of the university’s efforts to provide the best possible education to our students despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty and students have reported a successful first two weeks of teaching remotely. I’m grateful to all the staff, faculty, students, and families who have made it possible to ensure educational continuity at one of the most challenging times in Yale’s history.


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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale responds to COVID-19

Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-980-2222