Public health, faculty expertise to guide planning for next academic year

Sterling Library
(Illustration by Eri Griffin)

Yale President Peter Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel are drawing on the insights and ingenuity of Yale experts as they chart the university’s course for the next academic year amid the ongoing public health crisis and its negative financial consequences.

The president and provost have charged six contingency-planning committees composed of faculty and administrators from across schools and disciplines to advise them on how best to fulfill Yale’s mission — facilitating outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice — while prioritizing the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and the public.

In a recent letter to faculty and staff, the president and provost acknowledge that some choices are out of their hands, as they defer to orders from government agencies and elected officials. They also recognize that Yale’s decisions about how to proceed will be made “despite the uncertainty that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Nevertheless,” they said, “in the complex and rapidly changing environment of this public health emergency, it is critically important that we think proactively about the months ahead.”

Four newly established committees will study approaches to maintaining continuity in academics, research, creative and artistic practice, and operations, respectively. Each committee will advise Yale’s leadership on priorities, strategies, policies, and logistics in their respective domains. The existing Public Health Committee and Emergency Policy Committee — formed early, as the health crisis emerged — will inform and guide the deliberations of the new committees, Salovey and Strobel said.

In the course of their work, the members of these committees will consult with colleagues around the university and with student representatives.

There are no easy or obvious answers to the questions we face,” said Strobel. “We are fortunate that dozens of Yale faculty have agreed to commit their time, abundant creativity, and necessary expertise to this important process, which aims to reunite our community — at the right time and in the safest possible way. I am deeply grateful. We will meet the challenge together.”

Stephanie Spangler, vice provost for health affairs & academic integrity, and chair of the Public Health Committee, said the university is fortunate to include top experts in an array of highly relevant fields — including public health policy and practice, health care delivery, infectious disease epidemiology, vaccine and testing development, emergency response, operations research, and decision analysis. Many of these experts can provide vital information about current circumstances and future probabilities relating to the pandemic.

Our committee will draw upon the knowledge of these experts as well as leaders at our Schools of Nursing, Medicine, and Public Health, and at Yale Health,” Spangler said. “Together we hope to create a framework to inform the explorations of the other committees and to support the decisions of university leaders as they contemplate scenarios for reactivating on-campus functions.”

Pericles Lewis, vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives, chairs the Academic Continuity Committee, which is studying a variety of scenarios to determine how best to educate students across all Yale’s schools.

Options may vary somewhat between schools that are heavily residential, like Yale College, and others where students mostly live off-campus, like the professional schools,” said Lewis, who also is the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of English. “We are also concerned about the ability of international students to make it to campus because of travel restrictions. So we are hoping to find a way to allow all Yale students to make progress in their education in the coming academic year.”

The Research Continuity Committee will make recommendations about how to conduct ongoing research safely and how to facilitate the safe and effective expansion of research operations given specific assumptions about underlying public health conditions at Yale and in New Haven, said Michael Crair, vice provost for research and the committee’s chair.

Our committee will examine how to safely and responsibly facilitate the incredibly broad range of exciting scholarship that typically happens daily on campus, including important work in the social sciences, arts and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, and clinical research,” said Crair, the William Ziegler III Professor of Neuroscience. “We have subcommittees studying each of these areas to determine the best possible options for enabling Yale scholars to continue producing groundbreaking research.”

Vice Provost Emily Bakemeier chairs the Creative and Artistic Practice Committee, which is composed of faculty and staff from the Schools of Art, Architecture, Drama, and Music as well those involved in the arts from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Yale College.

The arts present unique challenges to pedagogy and practice during these times of social distancing and remote learning,” Bakemeier said. “The committee will be drawing on as much expertise as possible, and consulting widely, including with students. Yale is renowned for its programs in the arts — curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular — and I look forward to working together with this dedicated group to explore proactively all possible ways that will ensure that creative and artistic practice at Yale continue to flourish.”

The Operations Continuity Committee will keep operations managers throughout the university — who oversee the many systems and services that make Yale function — updated on the details of any plans to re-start, said Tim Pavlis, associate vice president for strategy and academic business operations, who chairs the committee.

The committee also will share operational constraints with the other committees to ensure that staff can deliver the services necessary for a successful return, he said.

A hallmark of this time is uncertainty,” Pavlis said. “Uncertainty requires communication and coordination. We’re all in this together, and we need to work together to come back as quickly and smoothly as we can in our education and research missions, as soon as public health allows. “

In their letter, the president and provost wrote that they would provide updates to the community as plans develop.

All committee members are listed in the president and provost’s announcement.

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