As the spring semester draws to a close and community members wonder about how and when the University will resume its regular operations, Yale administrators have yet to form definite plans as they continue to monitor the coronavirus pandemic and evaluate viable options.
Instruction will definitely continue in the fall, University President Peter Salovey announced in a University-wide online town hall on May 1, but the specific dates and format of the upcoming semester remain undecided.
Most of the speakers at the town hall, including University Provost Scott Strobel, emphasized that many decisions have yet to be finalized since the COVID-19 crisis is still unfolding. In the meantime, Yale community members must await decisions on topics like campus access, the possible continuation of online instruction and a delayed start.
In his address, Salovey said the University will utilize a data-driven approach, saying that “this isn’t really a moment for gut feelings.”
“We need to preserve our core missions, our missions that have engaged this University for 319 years,” Salovey said. “We must take the long view in how we think about our human and our financial resources. And I want to be clear: we will be educating our students in the fall. We don’t know yet in what manner, but we will be teaching and creating new knowledge.”
In a May 6 email, Salovey updated the community on the possible restarting of University research, based on state-wide guidelines that currently set May 20 as a first-wave reopening date for some businesses. In the email, Salovey wrote that Strobel will update the Yale community next week on the University’s strategy for “reactivating” laboratories and libraries.
At a press conference that same day, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont discussed this date alongside possible reopenings of graduate and undergraduate education throughout the state, but those reopenings will depend on social distancing measures and other means of preserving public health such as contact tracing.
During the town hall, Salovey emphasized continuing instruction as one of the key principles of the University, alongside others such as framing the University’s reactions from a public health perspective and protecting financial support for students. The University’s commitment to financial aid is “unwavering,” he said.
Strobel added to Salovey’s comments about finances, saying that while his office has yet to realize the full economic impact of the pandemic, it has become clear that Yale has suffered a substantial reduction in revenue. Over the past two months, Strobel said, the University has lost roughly $200 million due to additional coronavirus-associated costs alongside a shrinking of revenue streams like summer programs and donor gifts. As a result, the University has taken steps to roll back spending, such as hiring and salary freezes in addition to slashing $300 million from Yale’s capital project budget for the next two years.
Increases in student financial need and interrupted visa acquisition processes are among the expected impacts, Strobel said. Still, he noted that while a recession followed by a recovery period seems likely, it remains unclear when that recovery will happen or what shape it will take.
“We do not yet know the full magnitude of the turn we need to make. But we do know that we need to start making that turn,” Strobel said. “…how fast or slow will that recovery be, and will that recovery be a U shape, or a V shape, or a W shape? The answers to those kinds of questions will obviously directly impact our ability to handle this financial storm.”
Echoing an April 21 email updating the Yale community on University operations, Salovey and Strobel both emphasized that while Yale boasts a $30.3 billion endowment, the University cannot simply deduct funding from that total in order to cover the recent gaps. While the endowment fuels a significant part of Yale’s operating budget, Strobel said, the endowment also exists to ensure that future Yale communities have access to the same resources as the present cohort.
Despite Yale’s promise of a town hall style meeting, administrators spoke for nearly the entire 50-minute meeting, answering just a few questions at the end — and drawing mixed opinions from several viewers.
Some students took to the anonymous social media app Librex with mixed reactions toward the town hall, ranging from understanding toward the tough position administrators are in to frustration over a lack of answers to student questions. Meanwhile, the organization Concerned and Organized Graduate Students at Yale — which advocates for extending funding for PhD students — took to Twitter to voice its displeasure with how the town hall went.
In one tweet, COGS members wrote that their questions about emergency cash grants for graduate students were blocked as spam content by the town hall website. In another, COGS called administrators’ comments about endowment losses “fake news.”
COGS organizer Alex Kolokotronis GRD ’22 called the town hall “disheartening,” because administrators did not focus the conversation on undergraduate and graduate students and employees.
“It felt less like a town hall for us, and by us, I mean graduate student employees, faculty…undergrads,” Kolokotronis said. “It felt like the town hall was for someone else.”
In the town hall, Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86 said that questions regarding topics such as leaves of absence and student belongings could be directed toward other administrators, including residential college deans. Still, she offered information regarding an adapted commencement — on May 18, Salovey will confer degrees on graduates through an online platform while the University continues to plan for an in-person celebration once the threat posed by COVID-19 has passed.
Administrators also announced that another town hall will likely take place in July. In an interview with the News, Kolokotronis said that this projected date is disappointing, because there are likely to be questions that spring up within the Yale community about the University’s response to the pandemic in the two months before the next town hall.
The 2020–21 school year is currently set to start on Sept. 2.
Valerie Pavilonis | firstname.lastname@example.org