Coronavirus Update Memo – March 13, 2020

Things are changing rapidly and some of what I’ll be reporting in this memo will revise information in previous memos. As late as yesterday, March 12th, we wrote that staff would be required to come to the office unless they had a specific reason to feel they had been in contact with someone who was sick. Today we have new guidance.

We should figure out which staff members have the capacity to work from home, and move any of them who want to telecommute to work from home posture. This changes earlier guidance, in which we said that everyone who has not been exposed to the virus, with case by case exceptions, should report to work. Depending on work responsibilities, all staff will not be eligible to work remotely. Staff who are designated as essential personnel and either have responsibilities that do not allow them to telecommute, or who are in positions designated as emergency response team members, can be moved to some other flexible employment arrangement that allows us to thin out the workforce present on campus at any moment, and so reduce their risk of exposure.

Staff who are telecommuting will still be responsible for fulfilling their job responsibilities, and before they begin, they will develop formal telecommuting agreements with their supervisors, subject to review by deans, VPs and other divisional heads, and human resources. A guide for the elements of these arrangements can be found here. Arrangements will be for a one-week duration, renewable weekly for the duration of the crisis. At the end of each week, supervisors and employees should assess the arrangement, make sure that the work of the campus is still getting done and employees are adhering to the arrangement. Alterations in the arrangement will, if necessary, be made based on those assessments, and supervisors will be responsible for the continued functioning of their office.

Please use today, the weekend, and as many of our instructional recess days as you need to develop and formalize these telecommuting arrangements. Importantly, telephones that ring in your office will need to be shifted to cell or home phones, and these lines, as well as emails and other forms of communication, must be answered. I will ask supervisors to check to make sure that members of our campus community who contact your office—even while staff are telecommuting—receive the service they deserve.

You will find more detailed instructions from CUNY on the university’s approach to flexible work arrangements here.

A second note: I want to reinforce something I wrote in yesterday’s memo: while we have suspended classes and will move to an online profile starting on March 19th, the campus remains open. This means two things. First, we cannot require that students come to campus—and remember that an authority figure’s suggestion that a student come and meet him or her will likely be received by students as a requirement. By the same token, the campus remains open to students. They can use the library, stay in the dorms, take advantage of open facilities like the food pantry or computer labs.

Additionally, we have received many questions about labs, studios, and exams. There are ways in which many of us can navigate around in-person requirements for these activities, and a big part of what some of you will be doing on your instructional recess will be to figure out how to do this. Some labs can be replicated online—though that’s not true of all. In cases where an in-person activity cannot be replicated in a distance learning format, we will need to develop a workaround—such as allowing students to complete the labs when the situation grows safer. But we need to find solutions that do not require students to come to campus.

Finally, let me renew my call for creativity and commitment. These are not normal times and we are being asked, each of us, to respond to a crisis as if every individual effort we make contributes to a collective outcome that saves lives and speeds us toward a return to normalcy. In the next few days, we will all be asked to do things that we’ve never done before, often things we never thought we’d want to do. We need to rise to the occasion of this moment with compassion for the people around us, for a clear sense that our actions are consequential, and an understanding that, while we cannot now know the dimensions of the danger before us, we must proceed with a calm resolve not to underestimate the situation. We will not panic, but neither will we fail to prepare.


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Vince Boudreau

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