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

Dear Colleagues,

I know that many of you have been working non-stop through the summer. I also know that the new semester brings with it a whole new set of difficulties and irritations and fears. Over the past months we’ve had to confront a grim parade of challenges — personal, institutional, national. I’m dispensing with the usual autumn “Provost’s letter” to mention just a few of them.

Above all, the racism and inequality that have always pervaded American society are more visible than ever. The pandemic has laid bare in new ways the inequalities of our own institution, as well — and the radically varying degrees of privilege of different members of the NYU community in terms of their ability to shield themselves, physically and financially, from its impact. I know that some of you are not in agreement with the decision to hold some classes in person; my own support of that decision stems in large part from my acute awareness of such disparities — not to mention the obvious fact, speaking of disparities, that only a few enviable institutions can afford fully to suspend in-person operations without triggering large-scale layoffs or furloughs.

I remain extremely concerned about populations that have been particularly targeted in the context of COVID: we’ve seen, for instance, the imposition (and thankfully the subsequent partial rollback) of punitive restrictions of international students. Visa restrictions remain in place for many, and I’ve had conversations with a number of you about individual faculty and students who are out of the country and can’t get back in. We’re actively working to help legally resolve the immigration challenges of as many faculty and students as possible.

Some of the preparations for the semester have caused you distress: some classroom assignments were changed over the last several weeks to reduce elevator and staircase traffic, and to open up study spaces for students. I fully understand that it’s been destabilizing to have something as basic as a classroom assignment be so uncertain, and thank you for your patience. There’s also been some outcry over the fact that we’ve asked faculty who use classroom AV equipment to bring a laptop or Chromebook to class; that’s simply because it isn’t feasible to clean all shared equipment between every session (for information on loaner laptops or Chromebooks, connect with your school’s technology team).

I know many of you are struggling to meet work life and personal life needs during this pandemic (I know that I am). The Office of Work Life has been working with other parts of the University to provide enhanced support in this area, but I recognize that it will be insufficient to cover all needs. I again ask those of you who are unit heads to give as much latitude as possible to your colleagues with care-giving burdens as you schedule meetings, make committee assignments, and the like.

Finally, all of us are concerned about how the semester will unfold, and wonder if the institution will be able to maintain a COVID-free environment.

So far, of over 22,000 administered and uploaded test results since August 1, including the cohort coming from hot-spot states, we’ve seen a positive test rate of around 0.1%. Testing will be ongoing, and frequent. We’re campaigning widely for community health measures (hand washing, social distancing, mask wearing — all those things that have become so familiar); those of you who’ve been to campus will see evidence of this everywhere.

It’s been an enormous undertaking to prepare the campus for even a dramatically de-densified in-person presence. We’re very grateful to all the staff who have done so much over the past weeks to prepare the campus for the fall semester.

Some of you have expressed skepticism about the likelihood of our students being compliant with such policies as mask wearing. For my part, I think they’re remarkably community-oriented and largely committed to upholding the health measures they agreed to when they opted to come back to campus. As faculty members, we should be sure that our own adherence to them exemplifies what we expect of our students. And if we aren’t able to keep our numbers at the low levels required by the State of New York, we’ll comply with state guidance on suspending in-person instruction until we can.

We’re well into our sixth month of trying to manage the pandemic. I suspect that it will be that long again before we begin to emerge from it with any clarity. In the meantime, I’ll continue to do whatever I am able to ease the very significant burdens it has placed on you, your work, and your families.

Best wishes,

Katherine Fleming

PS I want to make certain you are familiar with the University’s principal source for COVID-19-related information, the NYU Returns web hub.

Keep each other Safe