TRANSCRIPT, JUNE 23, 2021
Good afternoon and welcome, everyone, to our 31st Community Conversation addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, the Dartmouth College Provost, joining you with the media production group team from just outside Berry Library on the Dartmouth campus on a beautiful, early summer, and slightly windy afternoon, Wednesday, June 23, 2021.
I’m joined as always by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications, who’s outdoors with me here this afternoon. And Justin and I are joined today by three guests, Liz Lempres, a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1983, Thayer ’84, senior partner emeritus at McKinsey & Company, a Dartmouth trustee since 2018, and, effective next Thursday, July 1, the chair of Dartmouth’s board of trustees. Liz is joining us on Community Conversations for the first time.
Our two other guests are back with us for their first visit in more than a year. They are Elizabeth Smith, the Paul M. Dauten, Jr. Professor of Biological Sciences, who’s in her 23rd year as a member of the Dartmouth faculty, and since 2017 has served as the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Neal Katyal, a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1991, the Saunders Professor of National Security Law at Georgetown, former acting solicitor general of the United States, and an incoming member of Dartmouth’s board of trustees. Neal will be joining us immediately after a virtual court appearance, but he’s optimistic that he’ll be with us in time for the start of our discussion.
This afternoon, we’ll follow our typical format with a brief campus update, a live Q&A moderated by Justin, a little bit of background noise from the campus, a conversation with Liz, Neal, and Elizabeth on a range of topics related to the year ahead, and then ending with an opportunity for them to answer your questions directly.
Now, let me begin today with an update on COVID surveillance testing. The bottom line today is that there is very little to report. For the weeks of June 13 and June 20, as reported on our dashboard, we have had a total of zero positive tests, and we have had one positive surveillance test the entire month of June. And in total, since the start of testing on July 1, 2020, as of yesterday, we’ve conducted 246,701 tests with a total of 409 positives and an overall positivity of 0.17%.
For calendar 2021, our overall positivity for students and employees combined continues to drop week-to-week and is now down to a remarkable 0.19%. And it’s reported on our dashboard, the number of students currently in our on-campus quarantine and isolation spaces is zero. Now I just ask everyone to take that in for a moment. Zero. We all know that there’s no guarantee that it will remain at that level, but let’s think about how far we’ve all traveled together this past year. This is truly remarkable.
Our Ivy peers all show the same trend of decreasing positivity week to week, as do our few NESCAC peers, who have students on campus and our continuing testing into the summer, as are and as do our state universities peers. Now for many of us, while surveillance testing will continue into the fall and we at Dartmouth will continue to update our own data on our COVID dashboard, our focus now has turned to vaccination levels. Two weeks ago, I noted that reached the 70% vaccination threshold for students who are on or accessing campus, with the undergraduate student population at the 69% level. I noted that we had also reached 70% for employees who are on or accessing campus.
An update I received just this morning indicated for the undergraduate student population who are on or accessing campus this summer, we have moved from that 69% level just two weeks ago to 83% who are fully vaccinated as of today, meaning that 83% of the undergraduate students who are enrolled in on campus or near campus summer term and who have uploaded information are confirming that they are fully vaccinated and therefore two weeks out from their final dose.
Now, this compares favorably with numbers reported by the handful of other institutions that are publicly disclosing data, institutions such as Brown, BU, Baylor, Cornell, and the University of Maryland, which ranged from 55% to 87% of their on-campus student population being vaccinated. And it also serves as a reminder that we ask all of you, students, and employees alike, to upload vaccination information as soon as you receive your second dose. For students, the deadline to submit evidence of at least the first dose or to complete a medical and religious waiver is June 30, 2021.
Now, for both faculty and staff, I mentioned two weeks ago in our last Community Conversation that we were moving towards announcing a vaccination requirement for employees. Our policy has now been finalized and as announced in an email this morning from Scott Bemis, Dartmouth’s chief human resource officer, Dartmouth is requiring that all employees working onsite or accessing the main campus and any other Dartmouth premises be vaccinated by Sept. 1, 2021. As Scott’s email modes, employees may request medical or religious exemptions from this policy by following the link in his message, and vaccines will continue to be made available at no cost to Dartmouth employees. Now, in addition to Scott’s message, details are available online at dartgo.org/vaxpolicy. That’s V-A-X-P-O-L-I-C-Y.
Now I know, and Scott’s email also notes, that some remain hesitant to receive the vaccine while recognizing that vaccination is perhaps our most effective tool for halting the spread of the virus in returning to the normal lives that we all knew. We encourage anyone who is hesitant to speak with their healthcare provider who can share data on the safety and the efficacy of the vaccine, with now more than 40% of the U.S. population having been fully vaccinated by the FDA approved vaccines.
We have indicated in the past that case counts, positivity rates, and particularly these vaccination levels are important markers of our progress and would be used as measures that helped us determine when we could move towards more flexible campus operating conditions. I mentioned a moment ago that we’ve crossed the 80% vaccination threshold for our resident student population. With that in mind, and looking ahead to summer term, with the first day of summer term classes for undergraduates being tomorrow, June 24, I have a few updates on campus operations that will be of great interest to those who have joined us in Hanover for the summer, and for those who are working on campus.
Given that we are now above the 80% vaccination level for all students on campus, not just for the undergraduate population alone, and recognizing that we have reached this level even with the June 30 paperwork deadline for students still a week away, and given that just two days ago, the town of Hanover over lifted the remaining COVID-19 emergency public health notice, thus lifting the remaining masking and gathering restrictions from the town, with the strong encouragement and support of President Hanlon, we’re able to announce the following changes effective tomorrow, the first day of classes.
First, masking. For those of you who are fully vaccinated, no masking will be required either indoors or outdoors, unless you have COVID-like symptoms. But again, for all of those who are vaccinated and symptoms free, no masking is required anywhere on campus.
Those who are not fully vaccinated will still be required to wear a face covering indoors until further notice. But consistent with our earlier changes, you are not required to do so while outdoors. Regardless of vaccination status, anyone with COVID-19-like symptoms must wear a face covering. And finally, in announcing this change, we would also like to recognize that some members of our community will simply feel more comfortable continuing to wear a face mask. So, in addition to those situations in which face coverings are required, all members of the community are encouraged to continue wearing face coverings if they simply feel more comfortable doing so, whether in the office, walking around campus, or anywhere in between.
Second, physical distancing requirements will be lifted, meaning that most spaces on campus can return to full capacity when hosting the campus community. One caveat is that we’re not yet reopening our facilities fully to outside visitors. But for all employees and for students, physical distancing requirements will be lifted indoors and out. Now, please note that small number of spaces with limited ventilation that will have lower capacity than pre-pandemic, and those spaces will be posted. And please be patient. We are removing these restrictions sooner than we had previously anticipated, given the change in town requirements announced two days ago, and our progress with vaccination. Moving of tables and chairs to re-densify space will take a few weeks, perhaps to a month, to complete across campus. And I asked that we all continue to therefore think of summer as a term of transition and ask for your understanding as these changes to physical places take place over the next several weeks.
Now, a quick note to faculty who are teaching in person and to our students. We are not reassigning classrooms. So your classrooms will proceed in the assigned spaces when in-person instruction begins late next week. Third, event and gathering size limits will be lifted. The normal processes for requesting spaces and registering events still apply, but limits do not. Fourth, dining and eating restrictions will be lifted. The current plan is to have ’53 Commons re-densified with tables and chairs moved back in on July 6 and 7.
Fifth, Zimmerman Fitness Center will open the students starting tomorrow, June 24. There will likely be reduced hours for a few days until the beginning of next week, and a few spaces, including the mezzanine, will not be open for another week or so. But reopening begins for students tomorrow, and faculty and staff will be welcomed back into the gym at the end of the summer.
Sixth, we had previously announced that the temperature in self-assessment, the TSA, would go away on July 1. I am pleased to announce that we are able to move that up. And effective tomorrow, the TSA will no longer be required. What that means for those of you who are on campus today and filled out the TSA today, today was the last day of the TSA. No TSA required tomorrow.
Seventh, students and employees will now have key card access to all campus academic buildings., Access will no longer be restricted to those buildings where, for example, a student has a class or an assigned lab. We anticipate this key card access will be eliminated completely late in the summer, likely Aug. 1. But for now, the immediate change is that all academic buildings will now be accessible to all students.
Eighth, the take your professor to lunch program will be reinstated beginning next week. Outdoor dining is strongly encouraged.
Ninth, there will be expanded student activities this summer, including a continuation of Collis Center Outdoors and a range of outdoor summer activities. Students are encouraged to connect with their UGA, house professor, and other members of their residential communities to learn about opportunities or ways that they can develop activities and events themselves.
And finally, tenth, the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge will be open for dinners for the summer term starting next week, and transportation to the lodge from campus will be available. The outdoor programs office will be hosting programs at the lodge all summer, and students are encouraged to visit, hike, and have a meal. Overnight stays are not yet permitted, but that may change over the course of the summer. Please check the outdoor program’s office website for up-to-date information.
Now, I recognize that with these changes, many will have questions on what operational restrictions do remain after tomorrow’s transition. Because vaccination levels and case counts vary across the country, and in some places, very substantially, we will continue to require registration of visitors until Aug. 1.
Overnight visitors in the undergraduate residence halls will not be allowed prior to Aug. 1. And arrival protocols, which include pre-arrival testing for domestic students, an antigen as well as PCR surveillance testing for un-vaccinated arriving students and arrival quarantine for un-vaccinated students do remain in place. Testing protocols also differ. Those who have been we vaccinated will undergo surveillance testing once every 30 days, while those who have not been vaccinated will need to be tested twice per week, as I have announced previously. All of these details will be expanded upon in a written message to the campus community later this week, and also posted on our COVID-19 website.
But I hope that the overarching message today is clear. Through the efforts of many, we have made great, great progress, and summer looks to be a term of renewed connection, and for me, hope. And this is why we are seated outdoors today on the Baker lawn. It is a sign of a vibrant campus and wonderful things to come over the course of the summer.
So let me end with a request for simple understanding in a few words of thanks. First, I hope that we can all acknowledge that an acceptable rate of change is different for every one of us. For some, the changes I announce today will feel overdue. To others, they will feel sudden. My request to this extraordinary Dartmouth community is that we understand this about and be patient with one another.
This has been an immeasurably hard year for so many, and this is a moment of hope for us all. Please, take the time to appreciate that your fellow student, staff member, faculty member, or community member may be processing this moment differently. And finally, let me end with my thanks to our students in the Dartmouth community for your flexibility and sense of community for looking out for one another throughout this incredibly challenging year. To the town of Hanover, thanks for their leadership for their partnership throughout. And to all of those who specifically took on so much extra this past year.
So, to any of you, when you see staff from any one of the dozens and dozens of offices who contributed to everything, from administration to running the facilities to keeping this campus going and making it possible for all of us to get to this point, this moment of hope, I hope you will take a moment to let them know how much it meant to you, how much it meant to all of us. Justin, over to you.
Thank you, Joe. As always, it’s great to be with you, and today it’s great to be next to you. It is, in fact, wonderful to be together outside. As you just said, this has been an incredibly challenging year, but just hearing and seeing the activity on campus, it truly is a moment of great hope and excitement as we can really see, feel, hear the progress, and we really are moving forward. It’s exciting, and it’s a great day.
I am going to dive in on the questions. The first one relates to the announcement that went out earlier today from Chief of Human Resources, Scott Bemis, about vaccinations being required for Dartmouth employees. This viewer asks, “If vaccination rates are high and the cases of COVID are low, why is Dartmouth requiring employees to receive vaccinations? This makes little sense for those of us who have legitimate concerns about the vaccine.”
Well, it’s a question we get from time to time, Justin. It’s an important question, and it’s one that I tried to touch on in some of my remarks a few moments ago. I think, first off, let me say again and say it as clearly as I can that for anyone who has medical restrictions or conditions that would prevent them from safely receiving one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines, you are exempt from vaccination. There’s paperwork you need to complete so that we can keep track of everyone’s status and the status of the health of the community and the vaccination level of the community. But there is an exemption process. Second, for anyone who has religious convictions that prevent them from receiving vaccinations or vaccinations such as this, there is a process as well for requesting exemption.
But more broadly, for those who don’t fit into those categories, why do we require vaccination? The community is safest when the largest possible percentage of the campus community is vaccinated. We know, of course, that individuals who have not been vaccinated can become ill and can transmit the disease. We also know that individuals who have been vaccinated can have what has been called in the literature breakthrough infection, can become infected with COVID-19. We do not know yet whether there is the potential for those individuals to be carriers, to be vectors. The evidence so far is very positive in suggesting that’s not a high-risk threshold, but with new variants emerging, including the Delta variant, which we heard about just yesterday from the CDC, they’re being concerned that this will soon become the dominant variant in the U.S. and concerned that further mutations could lead to variants that may not be as amenable to prevention by the vaccine. All of these argue in favor of having the maximum possible percentage of the population vaccinated.
So why are we requiring students? Why are we requiring employees to get vaccinated? To give us the maximum possible chance of being able to operate in a safe and supportive environment for every member of our community to keep the campus healthy, safe, and open.
Joe, just as you were finishing up there, I got a question from someone watching saying, “Is it even legal to require employees to get the COVID vaccine?” which seems like a great question for one of our guests. So, how’s that for a tease to stick around until the second half of the show, when we get to Neal?
Another question that’s somewhat related to vaccinations, this comes from an administrative assistant, who writes, “As someone who helps an office full of people and interacts regularly with many visitors,” will people who start coming into the office, where she works, will they have to be vaccinated, and how will she know whether or not the people who are coming in are vaccinated? Should she be worried? Is this something that our policy contemplates?
Right. So, thank you, Justin, and thank you for the question. This is one also I’ve heard myself directly a few times. I know it’s on the minds of people, particularly those staff who are sitting in frontline positions in many of our different offices and locations around campus. Everyone who has been vaccinated does not need to be masked indoors or outdoors. So, someone walking into an office, if they have been vaccinated, is not required to be masked. The data and CDC guidance have indicated that the risk of transmission, the risk of disease spread within that population is very low. Individuals who have not been vaccinated are required to wear a mask when entering any indoor setting. That may change over the course of the summer or fall, but as of today, that is our guidance. That is our rule. That is our requirement.
So, someone working in a frontline position should recognize that individuals may be masked or unmasked coming in the door. If individuals are unmasked, that should be an indication that they have been vaccinated. Now, we’re stressing to our community in particular it’s not appropriate for us to be asking one another their individual vaccination status. That is personal health information. But we are asking those who have not been vaccinated to be mindful of the importance of complying with the rules and wearing masks in indoor settings.
But finally, in terms of individual comfort, I want to stress what I said earlier. I see this with friends and community members. There are many individuals who even though they are vaccinated simply feel more comfortable wearing a mask or wearing a mask indoors, are not ready to remove the mask. I absolutely want to make as clear as I possibly can, for anyone who’s vaccinated, this is an element of personal choice. So, if you are more comfortable being masked indoors, please wear your mask indoors. You’re not required to take it off by any stretch, and we want everyone who’s vaccinated to be comfortable in their working environment. So, wear a mask if that helps you feel more comfortable. It does give you an additional measure of protection.
Joe, in your remarks, you mentioned that visitors still won’t be allowed on campus. What conditions do you anticipate need to be met in order for that prohibition to be lifted? When can we expect that visitors will be allowed on campus as well as community members?
Right. So just to clarify, Justin, visitors are currently allowed on campus in indoor settings if they are being hosted by someone and are registered. So, we are asking everyone who’s bringing a visitor to campus to go through the registration process. So, for example, for interviews of candidates for different positions, right, a manager is free to bring that individual or those individuals to campus, but they have to be registered in advance, and we need an indication of how they are compliant with our COVID protocols, either coming from within New England or they’ve been fully vaccinated, so on and so forth. The form is very clear. We presently anticipate those restrictions going away on or about Aug. 1.
The reason we are keeping them in place now is because levels of vaccination are very different across the country and certainly very different across the world. Levels of disease prevalence are different across the country and across the world. So, we are doing this in a cautious and stepwise approach. We are focusing on opening the campus for the campus community first in a way we can be comfortable fully re-densifying the facilities. Then the next step is to remove some of the restrictions associated with visitors. What metrics might drive us to do that, to make that step sooner? If we saw a vaccination rate in the country approach 70, 75, 80%, I think that would be a strong indication that there’d be reason to move faster in removing the visitor restrictions.
Joe, I know that Elizabeth Smith will be joining us shortly and I’m certain will talk about in-person instruction, in-person class instruction. But a question that I think you might be able to address, which I think is a really good question, comes in. “If classrooms are not being used for in-person instruction, can classroom space be secured so that students can gather together and Zoom the class as a group so that they would benefit from interaction with one another?”
So that’s a great question. I’m going to answer it and hope I’m not running counter to guidance that the different groups that manage different classes have in place. So let me say at a surface level, that seems like a very reasonable thing to do. So, I’m supportive. Caveat, I don’t know what the individual scheduling of rooms in different academic buildings is. I don’t know if faculty are planning to use them for faculty gatherings and departmental events. So, I would say before a group of students or a group of faculty and staff assume that a room is available because a class is not scheduled, check with the department administrator, or check with the associate dean’s office to make sure it is available at that moment in time. But quite honestly, given that we’ve removed gathering limits, we’ve removed density limits, remembering that those who are not vaccinated need to be masked if they’re indoors, if a space is available, we should be using it to gather. So, I’m supportive.
Joe, we have time for one more question. I’m going to try to get it in before the Baker bells toll. This last question is about a subject that we’ve talked about on the last couple of community conversations. It’s about housing, lots of folks looking for an update on the situation. As I think folks watching know, there is more demand than supply for on-campus housing in the fall.
Because of that, there was a wait list of just about 200 people. I know we’ve been working really hard to drive that number down. A lot of folks want to know where that number stands and sort of what the status is of the housing situation as well.
Right, right. Great. Thanks. Thanks, Justin. So just a quick summary, just a reminder to everyone, and we are facing increased demand for housing this fall because of two factors. Number one is given the hybrid and virtual operating environment this past year, we had a larger number of students than we would typically see choose to exercise a gap term or a gap year opportunity who then are desirous or desiring on-campus residential education this fall, right? So, students who were away this past year are disproportionately interested in being on campus in the fall, and the numbers of students who are interested in taking a gap term or a gap year this coming year is smaller than it typically would be, so increased demand because of that. Number two, as I think everyone knows at this point, the vast majority of our off-campus programs, all those to international destinations seem unlikely to be able to operate this fall. So, students who would normally be studying abroad in LSAs and FSPs will, in fact, be on campus.
So, we had more students seeking on-campus housing than we typically see for a fall term. We offered an incentive opportunity for students who might be considering changing their plans to do so. We got the results of that late last week, and the dean of the college area’s informing students today of the numbers who have chosen to take advantage of that opportunity and what that means for the residential housing wait list on campus. Bottom line, as of this morning, I was informed that there are now 128 students on the wait list, remaining on the wait list for fall term housing.
That is lower than the number we were typically seeing at this time of the year in June in the pre-pandemic times. It’s not a guarantee that everyone who’s on the wait list will clear, but we are now firmly within the range of what we normally see at this time of year, and there’s often enough adjustment over the course of the summer with students changing plans that many of those students who are on the wait list, perhaps even all, are able to be accommodated. It’s not a promise or a guarantee that it will happen this year, but we are now at numbers that we have seen before, and we’ve been able to manage before. So, thank you for the question.
So, with that, Justin, why don’t we turn to our three guests now? I believe Neal has made it in time and has joined us. Great. Good to see you, Neal. Liz and Elizabeth Smith, so Elizabeth Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Neal Katyal, member of the Dartmouth Class of 1991, incoming member of the board of trustees, and Liz Lempres, member of the board and incoming chair of the board of trustees. Wonderful to have that the three of you with us today. Thanks so much for joining us.
So, I’m going to start with a few questions before we open it up to our audience more broadly, and if you don’t mind, Elizabeth, I’d like to start with you. Before we look ahead at summer term and fall term and the plans that are in front of us, I’d like to actually reflect back on a week and a half ago and ask you a question about commencement. We had commencement this year in Memorial Stadium, and for you and for me, for those of us who have been at Dartmouth for long periods of time, this was very different. It was a different stage setting, venue, set of operating parameters, and certainly a different set of rules, given that we were coming out of a pandemic.
You and I had the privilege of being on that stage, looking out at the students on the field, and you had the chance to appear in photos with every graduating student. I lost count. It was well over 1,100. You are in framed photographs across the country right now. I’m just curious—from your vantage point, did anything strike you? I mean, I know what I was thinking. What were you thinking in the moment as you were standing there on the stage, looking out at the ceremony unfolding?
Yeah, thanks for that question, Joe. To be exact, it was 1,170 students, as a matter of fact, that crossed the stage. I love that question. Let me just say that in general, I love rituals, and commencement is one of my favorite. For those of us who have been here a while, commencement marks the end of the academic year. For our students, of course, it marks the ending of one journey and the beginning of the next journey. So, it’s always a special time, but this year felt particularly special. We had all of that, all the excitement about the graduation of our students. But in addition, the commencement moment itself, it felt more like a reunion. It was like a big family reunion. I was able to connect with board members that I hadn’t seen in ages. I was able to connect with some of my colleagues that I hadn’t seen in 15 months. You could see students connecting with each other that they hadn’t seen in a long time. So, it just felt like a huge family reunion.
Now, standing up on the stage, there were a couple of things that really struck me. As you mentioned, I’ve been at Dartmouth 23 years now, and, first of all, just looking at the graduating class, this is an incredibly diverse student body. International students, you just have this incredible collection of students. And you could see in the accoutrements that the students were wearing with their traditional cap and gowns, the pride. First-generation students, international students. I actually need some kind of code for what all the cords and banners and staffs and things that they were carrying. And so, the pride that the students had walking across the stage. And then finally, there was one student who was in my line of vision, who was in one of the first few rows, and he just had the biggest grin on his face. It was this incredible sense of joy. And he would holler at a lot of his classmates that he knew. And he just made me smile every time I saw his face because of the incredible joy of that moment. So those were kind of the two or three impressions that I’m left with from commencement. It was just an incredible event.
It really was. And even after the ceremony ended, I ended up walking across the Green from Memorial Stadium back to Parkhurst, back to my office. And it was just packed with students and their families. And it just really seemed like... Your description of like a reunion is a great one. It was just joyous, energized, everyone smiling. Because really, it was the first time the community could gather without restrictions in one place in 15 months. It was a really, really special moment. So, Liz, let me turn to you now with the next question. And you certainly, through the course of your long career at McKinsey, have had the opportunity to see an incredibly broad range of organizations, public sector, private sector alike, and seeing them face a pretty diverse array of challenges. And so, I’m interested just in your perspective, what are your thoughts on the operational challenges that complex organizations like colleges and universities like Dartmouth faced this past year? Was this routine or... . You and I are engineers. Was this a 100-year-flood kind of event that you saw the sector going through?
Well, it was certainly the kind of event that you would want to design a very, very high safety factor if you thought you were going to go through it again. Unparalleled, unprecedented, a 100-year flood, I think in this case, those are well-deserved descriptors. If you look at what’s happened in the world, it’s been 100 years since we had a pandemic of this scale and the mental health and the economic implications, as well as the loss of so many people. But at the same time, we had a very important reckoning around social inequality and what we need to do better as a world. And then a very, very interesting, I’ll use that word in quotes, time from a political perspective. I think universities and colleges aren’t immune to that. The biggest change is the idea of pivoting overnight to online education, which I dare say 15 months ago, we would have said was completely impossible and inappropriate.
And now we’ve determined that it’s possible. And there are some pieces of it that may actually be quite helpful. We have even greater needs from students that we hadn’t seen in the past, or perhaps hadn’t recognized if they were already there, particularly around wellness and mental wellbeing. And then of course, the financials, this is probably the biggest change, a set of challenges that higher ed has seen since the 2008 recession. And I think Dartmouth has done a wonderful job against that. I think Dartmouth in particular had a lot to deal with this year. In addition to all of the things that colleges and universities have faced, we had the tragic loss of four students. And I think that’s something that we’re all still processing.
So yeah, I think it was a 100-year event. My greatest hope is that we’ll learn from it. We’ll be that much more resilient, and it will take a few things away from this that will make us more innovative.
Thank you, Liz. Thank you. So, Neal, let me turn to you now. And one of the things we’ve spoken about in prior conversations and the last time you joined us in community conversations, which was, I think, over a year ago, we spoke a bit about privacy. And at that point in time, it was in the context of all of the measures campuses were anticipating putting in place. We were talking about surveillance testing. We were talking about social distancing, masking, restrictions on behavior, and collecting, in a sense, personal health data in a systematized way through the results of surveillance testing. And there was a lot of conversation about whether this could be managed and whether it was an inappropriate intrusion on personal privacy. ... Looking back now on this a year later, how have we done as a community? How have we done as a country, you think, in striking the balance and in managing this?
Thanks for letting me speak to you all. And I’m obviously speaking from a personal capacity as a parent and alum, and not as a lawyer or incoming trustee. So, this is about as connected as I get. I don’t have any inside information. I’m just watching this from the outside. But in a way, I think that’s important too, because that’s true, I think, of most of our viewers. And they don’t also have all sorts of insight information. But on the basis of what I know, I would say that the record is mixed. I mean, this is a hard problem. As Liz was saying, it’s a 100-year event. And it’s always hard to evaluate so-called soft concerns like privacy and freedoms against concrete threats. And we faced a huge concrete threat in COVID and still do. But as I said last year, sometimes you need to restrict freedom in order to have more of it.
And so, look, I think the motivations of the college were 100% right. I love the College. And it got a lot right, from opening at all, which a lot of places didn’t do, to protecting our students from COVID with those remarkable numbers that you just presented. But also, from talking to many students and parents over the last year, I think we’ve learned that this came at a cost. And I think that the administration has heard from students and parents who felt there was inadequate communication and inadequate attention to the mental health of students and the belief that, whether right or wrong, that the COVID safety protocols eclipsed students’ wellbeing. And they felt in danger of being reprimanded rather than cared for and supported by the community. Also, worries about housing and it being outdate and the like. So, look, I think we can do better.
I think we have to do better. And what makes Dartmouth special is its closeness in the view that we’re all in it together in Hanover and those who support those in Hanover. And so, I’m really psyched to see the administration enlisting the help of the Jed Foundation on mental health, for example. And I guess I’d look to two things over the next year. I mean, and they’re about transparency and debate. Because one of the things I love about Dartmouth, and this is very much unlike a lot of other institutions in higher ed right now, is a commitment to debate and inquiry. And I think we may have needed a little bit more of that this last year. I mean, to let the community know more about what’s happening and be more transparent and debate it. And I’d like to have seen more student debates and greater information about how the policies were being enforced.
And second, and I’ll just end with this, is a world for mercy and our willingness to learn from our own mistakes. And that’s also true about our college kids. I mean, they’re going to mess up. They’re going to make mistakes. We don’t want Dartmouth to become a bureaucratized state. And I’ve always felt one of the greatest measures of greatness is a willingness to admit a mistake. And on with this, Joe, you did that. Because in November, in one of these conversations, we admitted, led by you, that some of those punishments that we had done for the students who broke quarantine were too draconian. And what a lesson for everyone on how to behave. I mean, I can’t imagine. It is so rare for any institution, not just in higher education, but in the corporate world or any other, to admit they went too far. That’s Dartmouth like to me, that we admitted. Everyone makes mistakes. The question is, do we learn from them? It’s one of a dozen reasons, Joe, I’m going to miss you so much. And it’s the responsibility of all of us to carry your teachings forward.
Well, thank you, Neal. And I think you raise several very important points there, and this year was absolutely a learning experience for all of us. And if I think about the rules and procedures and structures that we put in place in August when so much was unknown and when there was tremendous pressure from some elements in the community to not even reopen, we took the steps that we thought were appropriate to make this happen safely. Over the course of fall term, we heard and learned a lot, and we made adjustments heading into winter term as a result of the feedback and input and criticism that we got. Same thing over winter term, we heard and learned a lot that pointed us in a new direction for spring term. And here we are now, at the start of summer term. And we’re in a position where we’re able to open up a little bit more quickly than we had anticipated because of the good engagement, adherence, support in the community.
And I think the willingness of everyone who’s in a position of making decisions on this campus to commit to listening to students, listening to families, listening to the board, listening to alumni, listening to the local community, and drawing the best ideas from those groups and saying, “Now what can we do to make things even better for the summer?” So, let’s hope and fingers crossed. As I said earlier, I am hopeful. We’re really on the path to fully reopening in the fall. We have time for just a few more questions. I want to ask each of you one last question. So, I’ll ask you to be brief in your answers, and then we’ll take the time to turn outside questions. And Neal, I’m going to stick with you.
And I just want to ask a version of the question that Justin teed up. Many of the colleges and universities in this country, some 400 or more by the last count that I saw, I have announced that vaccination will be required for all students. I want to be clear that I’m asking you in your capacity as a private citizen and alumnus and a parent, and I’m not asking you about Dartmouth’s policy per se, but I’m asking you about your thoughts on the broader argument that people are making that institutions really have to be careful in going down this path. So, any thoughts you’d like to offer on that?
Yeah, man. I’m 100% behind what the College is doing today. I would have been beyond upset if it didn’t do this. This is a medical miracle, these vaccines, and over 175 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. And personally, my wife was vaccinated on day one. She’s a frontline healthcare worker. And I remember tearing up. And New York city this past weekend, the Foo Fighters played the Garden. All of this is because of these vaccines. So, I’m really excited to see Dartmouth doing it. The law certainly permits it. Obviously, you do want an exemption for religious and health reasons. And I’m so glad to see the college doing that. I don’t think it’s necessarily strictly required by title seven and the ADA, but it’s a great thing to do.
And so, I’m glad to see that there’ll be forms available and the like. But this is just a really good illustration of how restricting a bit of individual freedom expands more of it. This is going to allow our campus to blossom. It’s going to allow Dartmouth to be Dartmouth. It’s so hard for me to think we didn’t have in-person classes. Both as a student, but also as a teacher, I know how important that thrill of walking into the class and having face-to-face interaction is. It’s central to the Dartmouth experience, and so I’m so glad to see this. And I think we all need to support it.
Great. Thank you, Neal. So, Elizabeth, I want to use Neal’s comments there to pivot to you really quickly and ask you what you’re hearing and seeing from faculty summer term. I know that we’ve been hopeful that we would see even more in-person experiences as vaccination rates rise. What are you hearing? What are you seeing?
Yeah, thanks for that question, Joe. Well, first of all, your announcement at the beginning of this conversation is huge. The lifting of various restrictions, allowing people to meet unmasked, et cetera, that is huge. The faculty are... They can’t wait to get back in the classroom and to meet with students in person. And so just for example, quickly, given the changing landscape, I did a real quick poll earlier in the week. I asked department chairs, for example, if they would be willing or are they planning to host in-person events for students? And 87% of department chairs are open to opportunities to meet with students. A lot of their questions are about what are the restrictions and what can we do? So again, your announcement at the beginning of the time here was huge.
And similarly, I asked faculty who are scheduled to teach remote only classes. And remember that they designated their classes as remote only to accommodate remote students and also, based on the information we had months ago. But some 85% of the faculty who are scheduled to teach remote only classes are open to the idea of providing opportunities to meet with students in person. So, I think as you said, Joe, this is a really hopeful moment for an extraordinary summer experience. The faculty are pretty excited about the opportunities to meet with students and teach in person, especially fall. Fall’s going to be amazing.
Right. That’s great. Thank you, Elizabeth. So, Liz, I’m going to give you last word before we open it to questions. And just very briefly, you’re stepping in as board chair. We are hopefully emerging from a pandemic. What are you most hopeful about? What are you most excited about in terms of the role the board will play in helping the institution in the year ahead?
Well, as the proverb or whatever the expression is, may you live in interesting times. And we certainly have had our share of interesting times. Neal pointed out a number of the things that frayed on our community over the past year, but I love Elizabeth’s word about joyous and restoring what it means to have the joy of a Dartmouth experience. So, the first thing I think the board is very excited about is supporting the administration and our students and families in whatever way we can and need to, to make sure that that happens.
I’m also looking forward to the board getting back to longer term, more strategic work, thinking about the future of higher education, thinking about what it means to take advantage of all the assets Dartmouth has. Not just the undergraduate college, but Geisel and Thayer and Guarini, and continuing to push forward on some of the agendas around inclusion, diversity, making sure that we’re bringing the best talent to Dartmouth. I think it’s very important that the board balance some of these near-term opportunities and priorities with the work of the long-term health of the institution because that really is our primary role along with the president. If we’re not doing it, no one is. So, I’m pretty excited that we’re going to have the chance to shift gears a bit and spend more time on those issues.
Great. Well, thank you, Liz. Thank you all. So, Justin, over to you. What are we hearing from our viewers?
Thank you, Joe. And we do continue to hear a lot about requiring vaccinations for employees. And so, I’m going to start with Neal, if I could, in his capacity as a parent, not in his capacity as a lawyer weighing in on this. It is about the health and religion exemption that you referenced, Neal. A couple of people have asked whether or not legally there are other exemptions that they would be able to seek in order to sort of opt out of getting vaccinated. So, is there any legal relief that people could seek? And maybe just say a little bit about vaccinations in general. You referred to it as a miracle drug. It really seems like it is just that, given how quickly it’s enabled us to really turn the corner and get back to experiencing the joy that Liz just referred to.
Right. So, while COVID is new, Justin, vaccinations, of course, aren’t, and the Supreme Court in 1905 started thinking about this. And certainly, universities and employers require all sorts of vaccinations already, including Dartmouth. So, if you go to Dartmouth, you’ve already got to have a certain suite of vaccinations, as well as of course lower schools and the like. So, this isn’t a new problem. And in general, the law has said, “That’s fine, you can require vaccinations because it does improve the overall health of the community at minimal costs.” And then it set up a series of exemptions, but really, they are just religious, or health exemptions based on the Americans with Disabilities Act or notions of religious discrimination, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the like. So, I don’t think there’s an exemption for, “I’m scared.” Maybe in some other regime, you might want that world, some other government, but not the United States government. And this is a very common thing to do, and again, done in order to let the campus blossom.
Liz, I’m going to turn to you as, as you heard earlier, we continue to get a lot of questions about housing, and it seems like we’re in the midst of getting the problem for the fall housing under control. But I’d like to ask you, in your capacity as trustee and as incoming board chair, how the board is thinking about housing in general and more for the long term. What is the board doing to increase the supply of housing, so that when we have another a hundred-year event, or even if we don’t have another hundred-year event, we still have more housing, more housing options for our students?
Housing, I think is a great example of where there is a near term set of priorities and issues to solve that the senior leadership team is doing a great job digging into, but there’s also a longer-term strategic issue at hand. I’m not 100 years old, so it’s not quite a hundred-year event. But when I was at Dartmouth, it was a housing issue and there were substandard rooms and we probably didn’t have enough, and that’s only accelerated. So, I think we all agree on the problem definition if you will. The board is doing a couple of things and Laurel Richie, who is currently our chair and will be for the next week, worked very hard along with Greg Maffei, and the finance team, and the Dartmouth finance team. So, first of all, we have determined that we will have an extraordinary distribution of our endowment for the next 10ish years to make sure that there is funding available and specifically earmarked for infrastructure.
And first among those infrastructure priorities is housing. Secondly, in our last meeting, we approved schematic designs on the first project around dorm renovation that will both improve dorms as well as create incremental capacity, and that’s at East Wheelock. And third, we are working with the senior team around a long-term plan that not only includes how do we think about classroom space and other forms of academic use, but also very importantly starts to get our arms around what we need in terms of number of beds, because this is not just an undergraduate problem. There are issues at each of our professional and graduate schools, and we’re taking a holistic approach to figure out what are some of the things we can do and what are some of the creative solutions that we can bring to bear to make the improvements faster.
Elizabeth, I’m going to go to you for a question. And I had planned to exercise my prerogative as moderator to ask my own question. And the question I was going to ask was about something you said at a meeting that you and I were in together, and you were talking about, about sort of the pent-up excitement of the faculty to get back into the classroom, to interact with students again. And you addressed that in your last response to Joe’s question. I would encourage you to talk about that more if you have other examples, because I was really struck by that, and I thought that it was just a powerful reminder that we’re all so eager to get back to doing what it is we love to do.
But this is a two-part question, because I want to tack on something that did come in from a viewer who recognized that you taught during the pandemic and wonders what you are hearing from the faculty about how this experience over the course of the last year is going to impact the in-person classroom experience and how this experiment over the last year, though forced, what faculty are taking away from that as they come back into the classroom.
Thanks for that question, Justin. You’re right, the faculty are really looking forward to teaching in person. I haven’t run across, and I talked to a lot of faculty, I haven’t run across a single person that said, “Boy, I really hope can stay remote.” I mean, nobody has said that.
When we recruit faculty, which is one of the main charges of my office, that’s one of the reasons why they come to Dartmouth. They understand the teacher scholar model that we have here. And part of being a teacher at Dartmouth is small kind of intimate classes where you can really engage with students, one-on-one research that students do with faculty, this is also a huge component, performances, creative work. The faculty are just really excited about being able to do that. And I could tell you a number of stories, right around graduation where I would finally see a colleague in person and they said, “I just got to meet in person my graduating senior who has spent the past year doing an independent project with me, but we’ve done it all on Zoom, but I finally got to meet with them in person to congratulate them on their accomplishment.”
There are a lot of stories like this. To your second question about sort of what have the faculty learned and what are they going to take away from this. We have a lot of faculty who are very good with technology and were using online tools from the get-go, but every faculty member now had to start engaging with technology in ways that maybe they hadn’t in the past. And I’ve also heard some great stories where faculty have said, “Oh, I never thought I was going to do this, but I see some of the power of some of the new tools that I now have at my disposal and that I feel really comfortable using. And so going forward, I want to think about how I can incorporate these new tools into my in-person teaching.”
And of course, we offer so many classes. There’s any number of examples of what those tools might be, but let me just say, the simple thing of recording a lecture in advance and being able to provide that to students to look at before you actually meet with them in person. And now you have all your in-person class time that you can use for all kinds of things, discussion, group activities, projects, things like that, that’s just one example. But I have heard a lot of excitement among the faculty about now taking this new tool set and seeing how they can incorporate that into their in-person teaching. And I just want to give a shout out to our Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, which we pronounce as DCAL, who’ve done an extraordinary job in training the faculty in how to use those tools and providing those tools. And I’m sure they’re going to be a really important feature of incorporating some of that work into in-person teaching.
Neal, we are quickly running out of time, so I’m going to give you the last question. It’s about your new role or the role you are about to assume as trustee. And this person wonders how you are going to bring your experience, your interesting deep experience as a litigator, how are you going to bring that experience into the boardroom? How are you going to translate sort of your day job into this new job that you are embarking upon?
Well, hopefully not litigation, but I think my job really both as an academic and as a lawyer is to listen and learn and that’s what I want to do, particularly with parents. I think communication is really important in improving our campus life. Those are my two kind of goals and I shed a tear every time I come up to Hanover, I remember so many great things about it. And I just want to make sure that the kids who are there go back to Hanover the way I do and think of it that way. So that’s one. And then the other piece is academic excellence. I saw firsthand as an academic the transformation of NYU in the 1990s as a law professor. And I think this is our moment for Dartmouth, that we, this last year, we’ve learned to celebrate the outdoors of learning not taking place in cities. And we’ve also learned there’s no substitute for in-person learning, both in life and in the classroom, and Dartmouth can do that better than anywhere else. And the mission of the college, the liberal arts to solve the world’s hardest problems, like COVID, it requires a study of economics, of geography, of biology, of genetics, of engineering, but also a philosophy in government. I think we do that better than anyone. And so, I’m really looking forward to celebrating all of Dartmouth’s great strengths and building on them.
Well, we’re looking forward to having you, Neal, so we can’t wait to get you up here. Thank you very much. And thank you, Elizabeth, and Liz, for your time and insight today. It was great to have you. I am going to throw it back to Joe, but before I do that, I’m going to say a few words about Joe. This is Joe’s final sign off from community conversation. I know I’m making him extremely uncomfortable, nevertheless this is his final community conversation. At the end of the month, he will leave Dartmouth and head to his alma mater, Lehigh, where he will be their 15th president. They are incredibly fortunate to have you, Joe. Joe has been at Dartmouth for 16 years, 13 as dean of Thayer School of Engineering and the last three as provost, although one of those years was a COVID year and COVID years are like dog years, and so it’s been more like 10 years, Joe, that you’ve been provost.
Certainly, you didn’t take this gig expecting a global pandemic would dominate half your term. Thankfully, you are never daunted by challenge. So, you sharpened your pencil, rolled up your sleeves, and you guided us all through a tumultuous and unpredictable year. We started this webcast over a year ago because you wanted to provide a face to the constant stream of COVID updates that you, and Phil, and the task force were emailing the community. You wanted to humanize a process that seemed impersonal in addition to being disorienting and upsetting to so many of us. It’s not easy to transform more or less overnight a residential academic community that thrives on close connection and personal interaction into a safe environment in which to live and learn in the throes of a highly contagious virus, but you helped us do that. You wanted to provide people with connection and with conversation when they were behind closed doors in need of a familiar face.
Joe, you’ve been that familiar face for all of us. A reassuring presence, an honest broker, and a steady leader. You have been there for us most Wednesdays at 3:30 to tell us everything you know and to answer all of our questions. In addition to being bonded by this webcast, Joe and I are bonded by our passion for running. Whenever we are on the road for Dartmouth, we run together. Always early in the morning, we head out to whatever city or town we are in to explore unfamiliar streets or trails together.
When Joe is at Lehigh, I will miss my running buddy rousting me out of bed when it’s still dark and making me run 6 or 8 miles before we get the day started. But I know, like the loyal son of Dartmouth that you are, that you will return, whether it’s during summer break or to strap on your skates and embrace the Hanover winter, you will be back. And when you do, you and I will run the hills of the upper valley together or we’ll head over to Memorial Field to do speed work. So, I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for Dartmouth this year and for the last 16. It’s been one hell of a run.
Wow. Well, so first of all, there’s no way on Earth that speed work is happening. Thank you, Justin, I’m taken aback. That was extraordinarily kind and generous of you. It’s been a partnership with you and putting this together with Jay, and Dan, and Mike, and the team, and we were behind the cameras and making sure everything worked and making this work for us. It’s been a partnership with the campus. And so, to everyone who’s sent in direct probing, sometimes impatient, but always understanding why, important questions about important issues. It’s just been a real learning experience for me and an important part to me of how we have tried to keep the campus together in difficult times and share information openly and honestly. And so, let me just say thank you to everyone who made it possible.
Thank you for being open to this new experiment in communications. And thank you for what you’ve done for the Dartmouth community. I will carry this with me forever and I will miss you all deeply. ... and Community Conversations will be back. Interim Provost Dave Kotz has promised me and promised us that in one month, on July 21st, he will be here, maybe in the studio, maybe not outdoors, but he will be here with an update on summer term and a look ahead to the fall. So, thank you everyone for all that you’ve done to make this such a wonderful place. Be well, be safe, and we will see you again.