Focusing on the common good — in town hall, Yale leaders look toward fall

Screenshot from the July 9 town hall with 8 Yale leaders visible.

President Peter Salovey and fellow campus leaders convened a virtual town hall July 9, pointing the way forward as Yale charts its course for the coming academic year.

The hour-long livestreamed event, the second of two scheduled presidential town halls, touched on a host of topics, including campus health and safety measures, asymptomatic COVID-19 screening, child care, work-study arrangements, shuttle bus services, the cancellation of fall sports, and the federal government’s recent directive regarding international students.

Above all, Salovey said, the Yale community must pull together — in a socially-distanced way — to preserve public health while also holding true to Yale’s mission of teaching and research.

Teaching and learning. Scholarship and research. These are essential to Yale being Yale,” Salovey said. “I’m asking each of you, personally, for your help.”

recording of the event is posted on the president’s website.

Extensive details about the university’s plans for the 2020-21 academic year are available on its main COVID-19 website.

Joining Salovey for the town hall were Scott Strobel, provost and Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry; Nancy Brown, the Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of the Yale School of Medicine and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine; Jack Callahan Jr., senior vice president for operations; Marvin Chun, dean of Yale College and the Richard M. Colgate Professor of Psychology; Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and C.N.H. Long Professor of Genetics; Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Vincent J. Scully Professor of Philosophy; and Kim Goff-Crews, secretary and vice president for university life.

Together, Yale’s leaders fielded more than 30 representative questions, taken from more than 900 submitted by 600 members of the Yale community before and during the event. Most questions sought amplification or clarification of decisions announced on July 1, when Yale invited students to return for the 2020-21 academic year.

First-year students, juniors, and seniors may be on campus for the fall semester; sophomores, junior, and seniors for the spring semester. Graduate and professional school students may return for the full year.

Undergraduates have the option of taking a leave of absence or gap year. Those first-year and sophomore students who enroll for both semesters of the upcoming academic year, including a remote semester, have the option of taking two free courses in Yale Summer Session 2021.

Yale will conduct mandatory COVID-19 testing for all students, who will further be required to sign a community compact pledging to follow university and public health guidance and protocols such as social distancing and wearing protective masks.

During the town hall, Salovey said Yale will announce specific enforcement measures for the community compact by the end of August.

This is a moment when we can all focus on the common good,” he said.

Yale aims to announce its plans for the spring semester by early November, he said.

Salovey also stated vigorous support for Yale’s international students, noting that Yale will join an amicus brief in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding a recent policy that would potentially keep many such students from studying at U.S. universities.

Calling the policy “deeply troubling,” the president said Yale’s hybrid plan to conduct both online and in-person classes meets DHS requirements.

Strobel fielded several questions relating to child care, tuition, and travel for researchers doing field work.

We recognize these challenges are great,” the provost said, acknowledging that many members of the Yale community are balancing work and child care responsibilities. Strobel said Yale has extended its benefits for child care options.

Strobel said Yale is not offering tuition reduction for the coming year, but said room and board costs will be lower than usual due to the adjusted academic calendar. And he noted the availability of the free summer courses.

As for fieldwork, Strobel said researchers whose projects require travel may request an exception to Yale travel restrictions now in place.

Many questions at the town hall centered around Yale’s efforts to ensure public health and safety.

Brown said Yale will continue to follow all national, state, and local guidance regarding COVID-19. In addition, she said Yale is tracking trends in new COVID-19 cases and monitoring rates of infection.

Yale is lowering risk of infection for students, faculty, and staff by reducing the density of people in classrooms, labs, libraries, and residential colleges, the medical school dean said. This includes upgrading certain ventilation systems, stepping up cleaning protocols, and adjusting the flow of foot traffic inside buildings.

Brown said the required COVID-19 screening will be more frequent for undergraduates than for graduate students because undergraduates typically live in closer proximity. She said Yale is conducting some of its screening with shorter nasal swabs, which can be self-administered under the supervision of a health care professional.

Details of Yale’s health and safety guidelines are available online.

Chun answered several questions about student life on campus for the 2020-21 academic year.

He said priority for on-campus attendance went to Yale College seniors, because this will be their final year on campus. Juniors were also invited to be on campus for the full year, he said, because junior year is a pivotal year for students to deepen work in their majors.

Yale’s cultural centers and most campus facilities will be open, Chun said; undergraduates will have the opportunity to conduct research on campus and remotely; students taking a semester or the full year off will not be able to participate in work study due to federal rules, but will have access to Yale career services.

Chun said students who take a semester or year off will be allowed to take part in commencement ceremonies with their original class.

He also assured students that public safety measures will allow for camaraderie, socializing, and the daily ebb and flow of campus life, even if daily routines are different.

You will be able to fully interact with your amazing friends,” he said.

Goff-Crews said departments across Yale will directly address issues of inclusion and diversity, and that related events will be announced this summer. Yale’s support of Black, brown, Asian, and LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff is of paramount importance, she said.

She added that Yale is in the process of updating campus policing policies, including who will respond to emergency calls unrelated to criminal activity.

Several town hall questions focused on faculty recruitment and teaching.

Gendler said Yale remains fully engaged in recruiting and retaining premier faculty. She said new faculty hires will reflect Yale’s commitment to faculty diversity and excellence, key academic priorities, and the recruitment of the next generation of talented scholars. The university will offer an exceptional student-faculty ratio.

Gendler said Yale is supporting faculty during the pandemic by, among other things, providing innovative online teaching guidance through the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning and by matching faculty who need research support with graduate students in need of research opportunities.

Gendler also highlighted the learning environment students will experience this year. Many faculty across campus are adding extra sessions of the most popular classes, developing creative ways to have small-group interactions, and inviting an array of authors, composers, and experts to take part in teaching activities.

The individual attention students will get … will be extraordinary,” Gendler said.

At the end of the town hall, Salovey encouraged students, faculty, and staff to follow updates on YaleNews and Yale’s COVID-19 website throughout the summer.

To fight COVID-19, we need to do it as a unified community,” he said. “That’s what Yale is all about.”

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