One year ago, the Yale community was met with an email from university administrators that we would be remaining at home for the duration of the academic year, with employment status, faculty appointments and undergraduate grading policies thrown into disarray. A year later, we remember the early pandemic with a degree of nostalgia: sourdough bread, Tiger King and universal pass seem so far away from the persistent burnout, breakless semesters and social isolation that we feel now. Even our reflections on one year of isolation — of which media sources have churned out en masse — feel insufficient to describe the loss we’ve experienced. I had family members last year that are no longer alive. I saw my loved ones. I hugged my friends.
Still, the lasting aspects of the pandemic are policy-based as well as emotional. On March 8, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun released a statement to Yale undergraduates that Yale registration policies will undergo major changes, shifting the registration period to April rather than August and dramatically reducing the flexibility students have during shopping period — or what’s left of it. This new preregistration policy is one in a litany of policies enacted by the Yale administration to adapt to the COVID-19 age, including a hiring freeze for new faculty, an altered academic schedule and relaxed policies for students taking leaves of absence. But many of these policies — rather than being temporary measures in a difficult time — aren’t going anywhere.
Yale students, faculty and staff have been impacted by a slew of new policy rollouts that have left our post-pandemic positions tenuous. Yale’s hiring freeze for faculty ends in June, but despite faculty support, there is considerable evidence that the administration will continue to restrict hiring new faculty. Additionally, some departments have seen cuts to staff and many staff members have faced anxiety about payment, as Yale originally only agreed to pay staff members through April 30, 2020. Yale refused funding from the U.S. government for low-income students when it was offered, but never accommodated for that refusal to low-income students who were intended to be the primary recipients of funding. Additionally, a slew of other policy changes have seemingly flown under the radar, such as a restriction on summer funding for low-income students through the consolidation of the International Summer Award and Domestic Summer Award into the Summer Experience Award with lower award values and narrower parameters even as “uncertainties remain” for undergraduates about summer opportunities. Even policies designed to offer pandemic-era opportunities for students to relax, like break days, are so poorly enforced that many students, including myself, have spent at least one of their break days working.
Administration has been largely unresponsive to student and faculty concerns. Take, for instance, two recent emails from Dean Chun about break days and preregistration. On March 11, Dean Chun sent an email to students about the new shopping period policies. This was the first paragraph: “I am hearing from many of you who are unhappy about the timeline for early registration. What I am hearing is that you are not ready to be thinking about next semester’s classes, especially given the stresses of the pandemic. I am also hearing pleas to postpone this process until the summer, when the demands of the semester are behind you. I am even hearing questions asking if Yale College is eliminating the shopping period. I hear you.”
Despite these claims, the rest of the email contained no concrete policy changes. Just a week earlier, Dean Chun sent an email to undergraduates indicating that he recognizes student frustration about break days by saying, “whether or not you were able to rest on the first of the five rest days, remember that you have four more ahead.” Still, this statement failed to acknowledge students’ lack of ability to rest for a longer period of time or even faculty disregard of student break days. It’s not difficult to imagine solutions — requiring faculty, for instance, to not assign students large assignments or course sessions on break days rather than merely “suggesting” it, or even having a longer break but requiring students to routinely check-in at a campus checkpoint in order to ensure that no students left the state of Connecticut — but solutions feel like a low priority. Administrators are simply unwilling to consider the impact of pandemic burnout on top of the typical burnout already faced by a significant portion of Yale students in a typical semester, despite the fact that pandemic burnout is rife across the world.
In her excellent book, “The Shock Doctrine,” historian Naomi Klein articulates a theory of “disaster capitalism,” in which world crises pave the way for increased profit and consolidation of power. Capital, thus, rises as the rest of us drown. Indeed, as many universities suffered due to the pandemic, Yale’s endowment continued to post returns. When the world stops, the holy endowment marches on, apocalypse be damned.
We are just weeks away from vaccine eligibility for all adults in Connecticut. But as we begin to roam freely, perhaps maskless for the first time, we aren’t going back to normal. And yet some things — like austerity — never change.
MCKINSEY CROZIER is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.