Date: May 14, 2020
To: NYU Faculty
From: NYU Provost Katherine Fleming

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

Since mid-March, all of us have been wondering when we can “go back to normal.” As the weeks go by, it’s increasingly clear that it’s not possible to know. In the midst of this uncertainty, my office and the schools have been working nonstop on how to design an academic year 2020-21 that is shaped by safety and health, by pedagogical and research strength, and above all by sufficient flexibility to adapt to a changing situation and to the many challenges we’re certain to encounter. We hope in a week or so to be able to outline with some greater specificity what the careful reopening of the campus in the fall might look like.

In the meantime, I’m writing to address the most common areas of concern that are being put to me by different faculty members and groups:

Safety - This is by far and away your most frequently-voiced concern. The well-being of members of the community continues to be the principal basis for decision-making. Under the leadership of Dr. Carlo Ciotoli, NYU is assembling a detailed plan that includes measures for prevention, tracking and responding to COVID-19 infections. The plan will be shared with you later in the summer.

Drawing on faculty counsel and expert advice as we plan to re-open - We understand the importance of getting this right. Well beyond state and city guidelines, we're also drawing on our significant faculty expertise in the areas of epidemiology, virology, network tracing, and a host of other areas. I am extremely grateful to the many faculty who have come forward to offer their expertise or who have formed groups that are now working with us. Elected faculty groups such as the C-FSC and T-FSC meet with me regularly to represent faculty concerns, questions, and proposals. Planning for 2020-21 is being informed by expert, authoritative guidance and will take account of the many vital health and safety factors that confront us (government orders, protective gear, social distancing, testing and tracing, density in classrooms and housing, the needs of vulnerable individuals, etc), in addition to academic considerations. Faculty working in relevant scientific research areas who are willing to be involved should be in contact with Stacie Bloom, who is helping coordinate such efforts. I am also extremely grateful to those faculty with expertise in online and distance learning who have come forward to help; anyone wishing to contribute in those areas should be in contact with Clay Shirky.

NYU’s commitment to scholarly excellence and diversity - Yes, NYU is facing considerable financial losses. We’ll have to be highly disciplined about spending. But we’re not going to reverse the trajectory of scholarly excellence that we’ve collectively built. Promotions and retentions are continuing as usual, and as soon as we have some evident budgetary stability related to student enrollment, we’ll resume hiring and recruitment. We'll also resume investment in faculty research. Part of our commitment to scholarly excellence is a commitment to the diversity of the university as a whole. At the request of faculty, I’ve asked Lisa Coleman’s office to make sure that the impacts of COVID-19 do not derail our work in this area, and also to establish tracking to make sure that the impacts of COVID-19 do not disparately impact any segment of the faculty based on race or ethnicity, disability, or any other grouping.

Our institutional focus on sustainability, and the concern that NYU emerge with a sharpened awareness of its environmental impact - While most of the things that have suddenly disappeared from our work lives feel like losses, the disappearance of some of them is positive: less food waste, less unnecessary travel, fewer disposable, single-use items. The efforts that led NYU to receive in April a STARS Gold rating for its sustainability efforts will continue unimpeded, and we will be looking at ways to keep in place, and accelerate, some of the positive environmental practices forced upon us by COVID-19.

I endeavor to be responsive to all the queries and concerns that you’re sending in and am grateful for your many constructive suggestions, comments, and criticisms. I fully empathize with your concerns, of which I have not a few myself.

My sincere best wishes and ongoing solidarity. I hope you are well, even as the weeks grind on.

Katy Fleming