From the Provost
Date: February 23, 2021
To: NYU Faculty
From: Provost Katherine Fleming
Now that we’ve almost approached the one-year mark, out of curiosity I looked back at the kinds of discussions we were having as the pandemic first hit us. A prevalent concern was that NYU administrators would move the university aggressively further in the direction of being an online instructional institution under the guise of COVID-mandated remote instruction. I can again assure you that this hasn’t been and won’t be the case. In fact, we’ll be using the summer term—which will be partly remote, and partly in-person—as a transitional bridge to a return to having all faculty teaching their classes in-person, in the classroom, in fall 2021.
This planning rests on the eligibility of those teaching in person for the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as on the growing (though still maddeningly elusive) availability of vaccines. In addition, findings from the past year at NYU and more broadly suggest that classrooms are not a vector of infection, provided students and instructors are masked and socially distanced. I understand that many of you still have concerns and we’ll be tracking them, and the public health situation, over the six months between now and the start of Fall semester 2021. As Dr. Ciotoli’s recent email indicates, we’ll monitor and of course follow updated guidance from New York State or the CDC regarding all aspects of university operations.
Others have also expressed concerns of a different sort: that we need to provide more opportunities for meaningful in-person engagement for faculty and students alike, and that we need to enable researchers to get back to their normal work contexts as swiftly as possible. As vaccination rates increase and infection rates decrease, we’ll continue carefully to look for opportunities to ease restrictions on aspects of campus life in line with the recommendations from public health authorities.
I know you’ve been getting updates from Dr. Ciotoli on vaccinations but just to reiterate, if you’re teaching a class in spring 2021 that’s registered in Albert as being in-person or blended, you should have been notified of your vaccine eligibility as NYS category 1a and 1b. Of course, as we’ve learned, eligibility for the vaccine and actually being able to get it are thus far not coterminous. NYU Langone Health is currently receiving less vaccine than previously, and the University has yet to receive any vaccine stock, so it may be some time until there is a vaccination slot available to you through the University even if you are in an eligible category. Please remember that you are not required to get your vaccine through NYU, so feel free to get vaccinated wherever you can most easily obtain one. I know that the plethora of scheduling systems is a nightmare to navigate. I suggest that if you haven’t tried it, you look at the “turbovax” Twitter page, which aggregates and tweets out NYC appointment availability.
Even after receiving a vaccination, community members will still be expected to follow all COVID-19 health guidelines, including wearing masks and socially distancing.
Work Life and COVID
Things haven’t let up on this front. The shifting schedules in schools, snow days (or lack thereof), and restrictions on caregiving services for those caring for children and loved ones at home continue to be tremendously stressful. I was happy to see the strong response—particularly from faculty—to NYU’s COVID-19 Childcare Grant program, which approved 195 applications and awarded over $100,000 in reimbursements since December—but I know that faculty and administrators remain under real duress. For the months of March and April, NYU’s back-up care provider Bright Horizons will be waiving co-pay fees for back-up care services for children and adults. I urge you to continue to visit Work Life COVID-19 Resources: Academic Year 2020/2021 for constantly evolving information on caregiving resources available to the NYU community.
Support for Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion
Among the excellent programs offered by NYU’s Center for Faculty Advancement, I call your attention to a new resource, the Inclusion, Diversity, Belonging & Equity Advisory Fund, which is open to all faculty and departments to fund specialized assistance, consultation, coaching, and various forms of training on matters related to diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging. Through this initiative and others, we’ve redoubled our focus on enhancing the diversity of our faculty.
During COVID, NYU’s building operations have reduced CO2 emissions by 6,400 metric tons. Air travel restrictions we put in place have saved 20,000 metric tons. I’m not suggesting we stay in pandemic lockdown forever, but the last 12 months have made it clear that radical change is possible; we all know that it’s needed. In the coming months, I’ll be having discussions on what COVID-19 may have shown us we can do without, and hope that we’ll retain some of these greener practices as we resume a more “normal” campus life.
I’d be happy to hear thoughts from you on this, and also on other positive innovations that grew out of COVID: As we prepare to go back to the classroom, we’re seeking to find out the most effective practices that you put in place during this tumult. What new practices might we wish to keep with us, both from a pedagogical standpoint as well as a research standpoint, and how can we best institutionalize them?
And last but not at all least, 2020 wasn’t all bad; NYU faculty received 227 honors and 114 mega grants over the last year, encompassing all areas of scholarly endeavor. You can see a selection of them here. Congratulations for continuing your important work, even under these challenging circumstances. I'm looking forward to a time we can celebrate you all in person.
Thank you for your ongoing contributions during a very challenging time.