Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

In-person learning at Yale is back for the fall semester — but not all faculty are on board with what they say is a unilateral policy that ignores social distancing guidelines or those with vulnerable family members.

Last week, University officials sent a memo to faculty that says in cases when it is “temporarily impossible” for a faculty member to teach in person it may be necessary to remotely teach in the short term. Such changes lasting less than a week do not require approval in line with University policy. It also outlines procedures for accommodation requests for longer-term concerns.

The FAS Senate recently sent out a survey to faculty, which will close this Friday, that allows them to anonymously share their opinions regarding in-person teaching.

“We have heard concerns from some faculty and we wanted to get a more holistic view of the faculty regarding in person teaching this semester,” Valerie Horsley, chair of the FAS Senate, wrote in an email to the News regarding the survey.

According to its COVID-19 dashboard, Yale College has reached a 98 percent vaccination rate among students, but the risk of breakthrough infections remains present. In response to concerns, University Provost Scott Strobel sent out an Aug. 25 email to faculty members, allowing for certain exemptions to in-person teaching and clarifying Yale’s policies. 

The memo allows faculty to teach remotely for the first week if it is “impossible” for them to teach in person and outlines procedures for accommodation requests. The memo also allows instructors to remove their masks provided they maintain a 12-foot distance from their students.

“It is clear that we are about to begin another unusual year and that there’s some degree of uncertainty brought about by the fluid nature of the pandemic,” Strobel wrote in an email to the News. “[The] policy clarifications made it clear that faculty who are either at exceptionally high risk for COVID, or those who have short-term needs to teach remotely, have avenues to make such requests.”

Policy development

Kathryn Lofton, Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean of humanities, told the News that the policy memo was “the result of ongoing work by the public health committee.”

Horsely also said that the Senate also expects that some faculty in more precarious job situations, such as instructional faculty, will be less likely to request accommodations through the formal process. The anonymity of the form, Horsley hoped, will allow for them to be represented.

Horsley added that the memo was “helpful” for faculty concerned about the Delta variant and that the senate will be advocating for “flexibility policies for faculty that have concerns regarding in person teaching (either for themselves or someone in their immediate family) and a means of requesting these concerns that supports faculty.”

Yale has long planned to hold in-person classes this fall. In a March 29 email to the Yale community, President Peter Salovey and Provost Strobel wrote that, should the public health conditions allow, faculty would be teaching in-person, a plan that was again emphasized later this summer, despite the emergence of the Delta variant and resurgence in caseloads after the initial announcement.

“Private arrangements for remote instruction with individual instructors are not permitted,” Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd wrote in the later email.

Faculty accommodations 

The University currently allows instructors to submit an application for accommodation if they are at an exceptionally high risk for severe COVID-19 infection due to an underlying condition. The Office of Institutional Equity and Accessibility assesses whether remote work might be possible. If instructors have a high-risk household member, the separate Medical Review Committee chaired by Yale Health Chief Medical Official Jennifer McCarthy decides whether to grant them an accommodation.

One nontenured faculty member who requested anonymity due to job precarity told the News that his request to move his classroom location to allow for social distancing, currently in a windowless room in the basement, was denied, alongside his request for temporary remote instruction due to an immunocompromised family member. He added that he is now able to “act at my own discretion during the first 1.5 weeks of class” following Strobel’s memo. 

Strobel told the News that it was too soon to tell the number of faculty accommodation approvals, and did not comment on the number of accommodation requests.

Other professors, such as professor Joanne Freeman, professor of American history and of American studies, aired their grievances on social media.

“Given the circumstances in one of my classrooms,” Freeman wrote, referencing a computer program that calculates the risk of catching COVID-19 in locations including classrooms where everyone is masked and fully vaccinated, “I’m ‘dangerously high risk.’ And I’m not happy about it.”

Freeman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Strobel’s memo also encouraged instructors to be as accommodating as possible to students who could not attend class in person.

The memo extended Yale’s Crisis Care Assist program through Dec. 31. The program allows an additional 10 days of backup child- or elder-care for those struggling to care for a dependent due to the pandemic.

Clarification, 9/1: This story has been updated to clarify the contents of Strobel’s memo to the faculty last week. The original story did not fully describe the timing of the rule.

Madison Hahamy is a junior from Chicago, Illinois majoring in English and in Human Rights. She previously wrote for the Yale Daily News and served as Senior Editor for The New Journal.
Rose Horowitch covers Woodbridge Hall. She previously covered sustainability and the University's COVID-19 response. She is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history.