Date: March 2, 2020
From: Andrew Hamilton, President, Katherine Fleming, Provost, and Eileen Sullivan-Marx, Chair, Deans Council

For some time, a working group has been meeting daily to monitor, plan, and respond to the impact of COVID-19, focusing first on NYU-Shanghai, then on NYU Florence. That will continue, but we are also changing our footing to look further ahead and plan for what we hope are more remote possibilities, including the possibility of significant disruptions here in NYC.

As leaders of your schools, you will be vital to that.

In our upcoming planning and decision-making, we will be guided by two principles that should be uppermost in your thoughts:

  • The safety and well-being of NYU's students, faculty, and employees
  • Fulfilling our academic mission: our responsibilities to the academic progress of our students

Our decision-making shall be based on and shaped by the recommendations of public health authorities.

Sustaining Academic Continuity: Critical Contingency Planning

The number of cases in New York is very low (two so far). And last week, the City's Health Commissioner expressed the opinion that shutting schools was among the last steps the City would take.

Nevertheless, in the current environment, now is the moment to plan for the possibility, unlikely though it is, that we will not be able to conduct classes in person and face-to-face as we normally would.

We are therefore requiring deans and directors to take the following actions:

  • To begin planning for how to continue the academic and administrative operations of your school in the event classes cannot meet in person and personnel cannot come into the office. This includes:
    • Naming a person (preferably) or small group to lead the effort within the school. This person will be the point of contact with the University-wide COVID-19 response.
    • Immediately completing/updating the University's continuity form (please contact Jack Briggs in Public Safety to obtain or link to the form).
    • Establish a "telework" plan for continuing classes. First and foremost, this means preparing your faculty to, if the need emerges, deliver instruction remotely. Clay Shirky in the Provost's Office and Len Peters of IT are the lead resources that your schools can turn to on this; this will be a topic of discussion at tomorrow's meeting.
    • Conduct the necessary planning to avoid damaging disruption to any research being conducted by your school.
    • Establish a "telework" plan for continuing school administration.
  • To assist in this, IT is preparing a telework tech guide; it will be finalized very shortly, and available along with guidance about distributed coursework. Among the most important tasks will be:
    • Ensuring that school leadership is prepared for remote communication. This will include:
      • Making sure that school leaders have appropriate tools (laptops and home computers)
      • Making sure that those computers have necessary applications -- such as VPN and Zoom -- to manage school academic and administrative operations remotely
    • Thanks to his background and his recent experience getting remote education underway, Vice Provost Clay Shirky can serve as a strategic resource to deans in making their plans with their faculty to sustain instruction remotely.
  • We are also looking at the possibility of a "telework exercise" to test everyone's readiness to use these systems in the event that they are needed.
  • In addition, we have prepared a template of a communication you can use to raise this issue with your faculty (see below).

Most Recent Developments -- Travel Restrictions, etc.

Travel Restrictions: As of now, all upcoming University-related international travel of a non-essential nature should be cancelled until otherwise notified (requests for exceptions -- eg, a scholar traveling to provide expertise to help stem the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy -- should be forwarded to No non-essential international travel will be reimbursed by the University during this period.

As we will be issuing a communication regarding this tomorrow, we would ask that Deans and Directors treat this information with discretion until then.

At NYU: We will assume that you are familiar with the earlier actions to suspend in-person classes at NYU Shanghai and at NYU Florence from our SLT discussions and University communications. New developments include:

  • STUDY AWAY - PERMITTING VOLUNTARY DEPARTURE: Tomorrow, taking account of the new CDC guidance (see below), we will be advising all students in study away programs that, while we will continue to hold in-person classes at all the sites other than Shanghai and Florence, they may voluntarily leave their site to travel home and continue with classes remotely using technology. As we are not making this announcement until tomorrow morning, we would ask Deans and Directors to treat this information with discretion until then.
  • NYU ABU DHABI: Since last Thursday's SLT, in close consultation with us, NYU Abu Dhabi has also made a number of decisions:
    • To substitute a "virtual Candidates' Weekend" for an upcoming in-person Candidates' Weekend
    • To postpone until fall the planned celebrations of NYUAD's 10th anniversary and Mariet Westermann's inauguration
    • To postpone a planned regional higher education summit co-sponsored with the Times Higher Ed news organization
    • To urge NYUAD community members to postpone personal travel
  • STUDENTS' PERSONAL TRAVEL: In addition, we also advised students at our European study away sites to reconsider personal travel, and we have strongly urged all NYU community members to cancel or postpone travel to China and northern Italy. As noted previously, we will be issuing a communication on new travel restrictions shortly.

External to NYU: Against a backdrop in which states, institutions, and businesses are beginning to take rapid and sometimes sweeping actions that they believe are sound responses to the spread of COVID-19, there are two developments of particular note:

  • The first cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed in New York. So far, there are two cases. We should absorb and react to this news in context: it is a very small number in a very large city. However, we should acknowledge the psychological ramifications: that this will heighten anxiety for some.
  • The CDC, over the weekend, released travel-related guidance for universities advising them to consider cancelling or postponing upcoming foreign exchange programs. As noted above, we will be communicating with students at study away sites tomorrow about our response to this.

Resources, Orderly Policy-making, and Information-Sharing

In order to keep our responses and our longer range planning efforts on track, here are the key personnel to whom you can turn with issues and questions:

  • In the Provost's Office:
    • Clay Shirky is heading up the efforts to provide technology for educational continuity
    • Gigi Dopico is the lead for undergrad related matters
    • Cybele Raver is the lead for graduate related matters
  • For health-related issues, including guidance for dealing with students, faculty, other employees, or parents, please contact Dr. Carlo Ciotoli
  • For Global Programs and Services, including students in your school doing work abroad and international students confronting challenges coming to the US, please be in touch with Linda Mills or Josh Taylor
  • For employee-related matters that arise because of COVID-19, please consult Sabrina Ellis
  • For any communications you wish to send out, please be in touch with John Beckman for discussion or review
  • For the purposes of orderly issue-tracking, please "cc" or otherwise bring into the loop Rich Baum and Jack Briggs on all significant questions, communications, decisions, or actions.

A Final Note: Our Conduct as Leaders

The many uncertainties about COVID-19 that make it difficult to understand the nature of what we are confronting, and the gyrations in the markets and the excited news coverage lend themselves to an air of anxiety.

As leaders of the University, it is important for us to convey composure and steadfastness, and to ask it of others, particularly faculty and other employees. Concerns are normal and understandable, and they should be acknowledged. However, we must also avoid falling into a situation where we permit undue or unfounded concern to govern us, and our decision-making and actions become inconsistent with the best guidance as well as our responsibilities.

Most important, please know that we are here to help you.


RE: IMPORTANT AND TIMELY: Contingency Planning for Academic Continuity

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

No doubt you have seen the many communications from the University about the COVID-19 coronavirus, and you have been listening to news accounts, too. If you have, then you likely realize that it is not especially likely that this novel illness will cause disruption to our educational and research mission.

However, given our responsibilities to our students and our scholarly work, now is the right moment to plan for the possibility, rather than scramble when disruption may be imminent or occuring.

Were it to come to pass that circumstances caused us to suspend classes, we would continue to meet our classes, much as our colleagues at NYU Shanghai have done. To lead the preparations, I have appointed WHOM?? to quickly develop plans for such a contingency, as well as to make preparations to make sure no disruption or damage occurs to faculty research.

You will hear from him/her/them shortly. It is important that you be responsive to the guidance he/she/they give about how to make preparations to meet your classes remotely, as they may involve technologies or applications with which you have not had a great deal of familiarity so far. It is also important that you look through your course and determine what specifically needs to be done to conduct it online.

If there are impediments, please let WHO?? know; we want to help you with any difficulties. Let your department chair or the dean's office know.

Students naturally look to you for guidance, so it is important that each of us act in a way that models calm, resilience, and steadfastness. It is probably the case that we will not need to implement the steps for which we are planning, but that preparation should also reassure us.

I know this is a significant extra responsibility to take on in the middle of the semester. I thank you for your efforts, your cooperation, and your commitment to the school and our students.