Welcome everyone to our 17th Community Conversation, addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, I’m the provost of Dartmouth College. And I’m joining you today from Star Instructional Studio in Berry library on this warm fall afternoon, Wednesday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
I am joined, as always, by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications from another studio on campus. And Justin and I will be joined today for a conversation with Phil Hanlon, member of the Dartmouth Class of ’77, president of Dartmouth College, and professor mathematics.
This week, I’ll take just a few questions after our update, moderated by Justin, before turning to ask a few questions of President Hanlon. And then, opening the conversation up to you for questions and discussion with the president.
Our updates this week are relatively straightforward. With less than one week to go until the end of the fall term, much of our effort has shifted and focused to winter term planning. I’ll touch on some of this planning this afternoon. But first, let me provide our regular update on testing and operations. And even before I get to testing, and the data, and the numbers I’d like to offer a brief comment on the logistics. And, specifically, on the conversion of our testing center in Leverone into a polling location and back, again, to a testing center last week around election day, seemingly overnight.
Two weeks ago, I had mentioned in our Community Conversation that Dartmouth was conducting approximately 4,500 surveillance tests of students, and employees each week. This weekly number of administered tests will begin to diminish after our undergraduate students begin to depart for the Thanksgiving holiday in the end of term break. For graduate students and employees testings will, of course, continue. But, for now, overall testing remains steady at that level of approximately 4,500 tests per week. And as of yesterday, in total, Dartmouth had conducted some 43,000 surveillance tests over the course of the fall term.
Now, I’d just like to ask everyone to think about the scale of that operation for a moment. That is a testing center set up in Leverone here on campus that is seamlessly processing nearly 1,000 tests per day. And consistently, throughout the entire term, the feedback I have gotten from students, faculty, staff alike has been that the operation has run extraordinarily smoothly.
I’d like you to imagine what it took to turn that into a polling station. On Monday, Nov. 2, a ground crew from athletics arrived at Leverone at 6:30 in the morning. They began to lay additional flooring to support voting and the voting infrastructure. By 12 noon on Monday, tables had been arranged with the help of local vendors. Our IT team had switched Wi-Fi from COVID to town of Hanover settings. And by 7 p.m., the town of Hanover volunteers had the facility completely arranged and set up for voting.
Tuesday morning, 5:30 a.m. sharp Dartmouth and town of Hanover staff arrived, and went over final setup. And at 8 ... sorry, and at 7 a.m., as planned, the polls opened. Voting went smoothly that entire day. And by 11 that night, Tuesday night, election day, votes had been counted. The setup had been removed. And early the next morning, the flooring and Wi-Fi were reset. Axiom, our testing contractor was organized for testing and by 10 a.m. Wednesday, Leverone had reopened and testing for COVID-19 was again underway without having skipped a beat.
To our conferences and events staff, to FO&M, to our IT network services team, and to countless volunteers, including students, staff, and faculty, and specifically to the Geisel medical students who administered medical questionnaires, and temperature checks throughout the day, thank you.
This partnership with the town of Hanover was essential for allowing the vote to take place in this COVID year in an orderly and safe way. And as Hanover town officials told us yesterday, you were outstanding. The community of Hanover thanks you for your contribution, for your volunteering, and for your service in making the election proceed as smoothly as it did.
Now, turning back to testing. Overall, we have had four new positive cases detected in our surveillance testing protocol over the past two weeks, bringing our total number of surveillance positives to 14, thus remaining at a positive test level of 0.03%. This number of 0.03% has remained, essentially, unchanged for much of the fall term. And this consistency is exactly what we had hoped to see over the course of the term. And I have to note that it’s particularly striking in the face of soaring COVID-19 case counts across the country, and across the region, something I’ll come back to shortly.
Now, as a reminder to our community, this information continues to be updated daily on the Dartmouth Together COVID-19 dashboard, which shows that nearly all of our campus quarantine and isolation capacity remains available, again, as it has remained throughout the fall term.
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, we have gotten some questions about testing and travel. For those students who will be heading home, we encourage you to get your final test two to three days before traveling to help ensure that you are traveling only if you are not COVID positive.
Now, two weeks ago, I commented on the broader regional and national pictures. And I noted the rise in case counts over the last two weeks in October. Unfortunately, that trend that we discussed two weeks ago has only accelerated since that time, with case counts nationally rising nearly 70% over the past two weeks, reaching a level yesterday of nearly 140,000 positive new cases, positive reports in one day, a new national record for this country. This increase over the past month has not only reached record levels, but it has lasted longer than the prior two periods of steep increase that this country has seen since the beginning of this pandemic.
Back in March case counts rose sharply 30,000 new cases per day, over a period of three weeks before leveling off, and then beginning to drop over the course of the spring. A second spike this summer, as everyone will recall, lasted a little bit longer. It lasted four weeks from mid-June until mid-July. And that spike saw daily case counts rise to 70,000 new cases per day before leveling off, and then falling back to 40,000 per day by late August. This current spike, it’s now lasted five weeks and has seen this country move from 40,000 cases per day to yesterday, nearly 140,000.
And I have to note, as someone who looks at data and looks at charts very closely, that the slope of the curve is increasing. Right at the point where half of the country is beginning to head into cold weather season. And, for some, into the season of holiday travel.
Now, I wanted to mention this as a reminder, that those of us who live in the Upper Valley and who work in study in this campus, and in this region need to be mindful of what is happening elsewhere. And what can all too easily happen here or anywhere. Although in Northern New England our numbers remain relatively low, being low relative to an alarming national spike is, I’m afraid, not cause for celebration. Even with the positive vaccine Phase 3 clinical trial results announced Monday, we are certainly not out of the woods.
We, therefore, anticipate at Dartmouth limited access operations will extend well into winter term. And likely through winter term into March, which means our work from home guidance is going to continue for the foreseeable future. If the course of the pandemic changes in a positive way, of course, we will revisit this. But, given where we are today, and given the trends we have seen over the past four to six weeks, right now, it’s our anticipation and expectation that limited access operations, as I said, will continue into the winter term.
And with this, I cannot stress enough that as a community, we need to remain focused. Focused on masking. Focused on social distancing. On handwashing. On testing. On completing the daily symptoms check TSA self-assessment. All of these in combination, no one alone, but all of these in combination are essential to maintaining community health and are important components in our ability to have navigated this pandemic as a campus and as a community this successfully this far.
Now, I also mention this because in the context of how well things have gone on campus this fall, we’re receiving requests, from students and from parents alike, to consider modifying our approach during winter term. Given the number of questions and given the context, I’d like to address a few of the points that have been raised in the hopes of providing some clarity in terms of how we are thinking about the approach to winter term.
First, in terms of the number of students accessing campus, we are going to stay the course. And we will not be changing our approach or the numbers on students on campus during winter term. We are intentionally operating under de-densified conditions, a path we have followed from the beginning of the implementation of our plan this summer, with approximately one half of our undergraduate students approved for residential education at any one time. That was the case during fall term, and that will remain the case during winter term.
It’s a matter of govern not just by residence hall capacity, but by library capacity, dining room capacity, gym capacity and, where relevant, laboratory and classroom capacities. With occupancy limits determined by things like mechanical ventilation capacity, number of access points to a building in a room, the activity taking place in the space, our need to keep individuals socially distant, and our need to clean facilities more rigorously, and on a more frequent schedule. None of this has changed. While I do wish that we could welcome more students back to campus, I hope everyone will understand why we are continuing to limit capacity through the winter term as we are.
Now, second, returning students who’ve not been on campus since mid-March have asked questions about accessing their belongings when they do return to campus in January. We’re working on details that will be announced with other arrival information in the coming weeks to month. But I can state that we will have a process that will allow students to begin accessing their belongings after their first negative COVID test. And thus, likely within 24 hours of arrival, they will therefore not be required to wait the full 14 days that we had required them to wait at the beginning of fall term before accessing their belongings. We also anticipate being able to provide some limited support for those that may need items like linens during the first 24 hours. Again, details will be announced as they are finalized over the coming weeks.
In terms of who will be here during winter term, as Dean Kathryn Lively and her colleagues in Student Affairs have announced to students, all students who place themselves on the second round wait list by the deadline were notified of the results last Friday. Overall, demand significantly exceeded capacity for winter term, primarily because we offered first year students in the Class of 2024 the chance to express interest in being here for winter.
All other students previously approved for winter on campus enrollment, and all students added through the first and second round wait list processes, including those students in the Class of ’24, who were granted access to winter term residential education through the second round of the wait list process have already been informed that they have been selected and offered an opportunity to be on campus during winter term. Dean Lively confirmed with me, just this morning, that students can expect their room assignments and their assigned arrival dates by the end of the day, this Friday, Nov. 13.
Now, as we have announced our community health measures testing, now increasing to twice per week during winter term for students and on campus employees alike, masking, social distancing, limits on group size, and completion of the daily self-check TSA will remain in place throughout winter term. But I know and we know that that is not all that is needed to navigate winter term successfully. We are very aware that winter brings a different set of challenges.
For one, as a group of parents pointed out in a letter this week, the number of indoor spaces that have been available fall term has been limited. Quoting from the letter, “Common areas and dorms are closed. The Top of the Hop, and other public spaces are closed. FoCo and Collis are limited.” And the letter then, recommended that we think about ways to create more options for students to congregate safely, to provide more zone spaces for studying, and for collaborative work during the winter term. The parents also asked that we explore what we have learned during the fall term and asked whether elements of our approach to various aspects of operation might be modified.
The student opinion piece in The D last week asked similar questions, suggesting that the college explore ways to allow more student interaction outdoors, even in winter. Quoting the student, she asked that we continue to offer, “In-person events that promote socialization. Activities could be academically oriented to replace the typically in-person guest speakers. Or more socially focused to substitute for Collis After Dark events and Greek life. For example, Dartmouth could organize hot cocoa on the green observing nights with the astronomy department’s telescopes, or even games in the Bema.”
The short answer to the students and parents who’ve written in with these ideas, and these creative suggestions is we hear you. Over the course of the next month, our task force and various working groups will be examining our fall term operations and policies asking what has worked well? And considering what we might change for winter term.
First, I know, and my colleagues know that we need to find ways to open more spaces for students to study in the evenings, for students to meet in small groups, for students simply to get out of their rooms. Everyone on this campus, who’s been working from home knows how tiring it’s become to work, eat, and sleep in the same location. That is abundantly true for students living in single rooms in our residence halls. As one step in this direction, we are looking at ways we might make access to Baker-Berry Library easier during its hours of operation winter term. Specifically, we’re exploring ways to move away from the reservation system for students to improve ease of access while still managing occupancy at the necessary capacity levels.
Second, I know well that there are questions about policies that have resulted in some students being asked to move out of the residence halls this fall term and policies that place fairly tight boundaries on allowable travel. These policies were designed to protect and support community health and the clear adherence of the majority of our students to these restrictions and to the terms of the community expectations document they signed has gone a long way towards building confidence in the local community that we’re placing community health first and foremost in our operational decisions. That cannot change. But that said, we are looking at our processes and asking whether there are things we might adjust during winter term, particularly to provide more clarity around allowable travel and around levels of infraction and those that result in a loss of residential privilege.
Students have been helpful in these conversations as we’ve begun, the processes to explore much of this and will continue to provide input through student affairs and the dean of the college area who have been receiving feedback through a student advisory board that was established to provide input to them, the student assembly, meetings with UGAs and other campus leaders, and a few focus groups that student affairs has held recently with first year students.
Third and finally, we need to develop additional opportunities that encourage our students to get outside during the winter. Not to tolerate winter, but to embrace it. We will be opening the Skiway. We are looking hard at safe ways we might provide weekend transportation to get students there and back. And I’m asking a cross campus group to think about out of the box things we might consider, particularly in the midst of a beautiful winter snow, to help bring students outdoors, ways that might make this term memorable in a positive way.
Our next community conversation will be four weeks from today because of the Thanksgiving holiday. My goal is to be able to address these questions and talk about winter term details when we meet then on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
So, let me end simply by saying to the Dartmouth community, thank you once more for all that you are doing. This has not been an easy term. This has not been an easy year. Students, faculty and staff alike have made this all possible, this success in keeping our community healthy possible. And for that I say thank you. And to the veterans among our community, let me echo President Hanlon’s message to the campus and say today on Veterans Day, thank you deeply for your work, for your service, and for your personal sacrifice. We are grateful.
With that, Justin, let’s turn to a few questions and then we’ll turn to President Hanlon for the remainder of our conversation.
That sounds great. Thank you, Joe. I’ll just jump right in so we can get as many questions to both of you as possible. You mentioned that this has been a challenging year at the end of your remarks right there, and it certainly has for multiple reasons. A questioner asks, and this is phrased I think in a very specific way, how do you think the administration has handled the mental stress of students on campus this term because of the pandemic, because of a stressful and prolonged election season? How do you think Dartmouth has done so far?
In my view, and I am obviously a biased observer, but I think by and large, Justin, that Dartmouth has done well. Not perfectly, but I think Dartmouth has done well. And these are the kinds of questions that we’re going to ask when we sit down over the next month and take a look at our policies. So, are there ways we can improve the experience during the quarantine period? Are there ways that we can give students the opportunity to socialize in small groups a little bit more frequently? The tents that we had set up around campus to provide opportunities for students to gather and for faculty, staff and students together were utilized, but not to the extent that I and others had hoped that they would be when we set them up. And so, we want to take a look at how those spaces were used and ask if we can do a better job there, not with tents that are going to be outdoors on a minus 16-degree Fahrenheit day, but with other spaces that we can make available. And so, I would say by and large, I think it has gone reasonably well. I also think there are steps that we can and should and must take to do even better during winter term.
Joe, you also mentioned the recent good news, it seems, on the vaccine front and the progress that is being made. Someone writes in to ask whether or not Dartmouth has been in touch with any health officials, state health officials or others, I suppose, to discuss how to provide a COVID vaccine to students when it becomes available.
So, the answer is yes, we have. But we don’t have plans that I can articulate right now. We’re not at that stage of the conversation. So, Dr. Lisa Adams, who is the co-chair of our task force, is in weekly contact with state officials, including state epidemiologist, Dr. Benjamin Chan. We are at other levels in contact with state officials about the plans in New Hampshire to distribute vaccine when it becomes available.
What does that mean specifically for Dartmouth? When might it be available on our campus? When will faculty, staff and students have access? Those are questions that it’s just a little bit premature to answer. But I think if we look at the timeline that’s projected, Justin, and we’re speaking about some reasonably large number of doses available potentially by the end of the December, much larger numbers of doses available in January, and if one speculates or postulates that health care workers are going to be those who will receive vaccine appropriately first, I think we’re talking about January, February, March time frame before the vaccine could begin to have a significant impact on our campus community. So, it’s not tomorrow, but I have to say that personally, I felt a whole lot more hopeful and optimistic when I woke up Monday morning and read that news. We don’t know when the end is in sight, but that to me says the end is in sight.
Joe, it’s always complicated to sort of run and manage a college campus with lots of people coming and going, students, community members, visitors, alumni. That’s even more so during a pandemic. It’s even more complicated. So, I’m trying to sort of wrap up a bunch of different questions here that have come in. But how do you think about merging these various communities, whether it be students who live on campus, students who are living off campus, faculty, staff, Upper Valley community members? How do you think about ensuring that they can get access to the Dartmouth facilities that they need to have access to while also safeguarding individual and group public health?
Yeah. That’s a complicated question, Justin. It’s a very complicated set of interconnected considerations. The approach we’ve taken has been fairly well-defined in the boundaries. So, we have welcomed students who are approved for residential education onto our campus and into our facilities. And approved for residential education could mean that you’re living in the residence halls. It can also mean you are living in an off-campus facility, but you have been approved for residential education. Those populations combined constitute the one half of the undergraduate student body that I’ve mentioned. We ask those students, as well as any others we know are in the Upper Valley, to consent to and participate in extensive testing, because that is our desire to maintain and contribute more broadly to protecting the community and to community health.
Now, you ask questions about visitors and we’ve had long conversations about this recently. We are interviewing for faculty and leadership positions. We have visitors, prospective students who want to come to campus. We have faculty and staff and students who would like to travel for their work. And we have consistently said no, not at this time. Those decisions we’ve made create some boundaries between us and the broader New England regional community. They are in place in a way that’s consistent with state travel guidelines from both New Hampshire and Vermont, and they are in place in a fairly restrictive way to try and keep our community that is being tested close and safe and protected.
I am hopeful that at some point in the spring, we can begin to welcome some visitors back to campus in very limited capacity. But as an example, thus far, we have asked all faculty search committees to conduct interviews via Zoom. We are looking for ways so that a finalist who has received an offer can be granted an exception to visit the campus in a way that’s consistent with state travel and quarantine guidelines. But up until that point, we are conducting the process by Zoom to offer equitable treatment to every candidate, regardless of where they’re coming from, and to protect community health, theirs and ours.
Joe let’s take one more question before we transition to your questions to President Hanlon. This question is about isolation space. We talk a lot about isolation space. You bring it up frequently during community conversations. It’s on the dashboard how much of it is being used. Someone writes in with the question, “Why is there so much of it?” And then someone else asks, and this is a good question, “What does it look like, the isolation space? What is it? Are there lots of beds? Are there televisions? Eat-in kitchen? What does the space look like?”
There are beds and there are televisions. There are no eat-in kitchens that are accessible. Students who are in isolation space have meals delivered to them by dining services. And so, the objective is to have both health care workers and dining services checking in on them and providing them with food and providing them with monitoring. And so, they are residence halls, Justin. They are typical residence halls, but very specific residence halls that have been set aside for either students who are showing symptoms or have tested positive. Those are the isolation cases. Or for students who are close contacts of those who have tested positive and are therefore in quarantine space. The quarantine space is a little bit more flexible than the isolation space. But in both cases, the idea is we are keeping the students safe, comfortable, fed. They are hopefully, if they are not feeling highly symptomatic, they have Wi-Fi. They’re still taking classes. And we set this up in a way so that it wouldn’t impede continuity of their academic program.
You might remember at the very beginning of these conversations, I said that President Hanlon and I, and all of the campus leaders, had two goals. One is first and foremost health and safety of the broader community, the Dartmouth community and the Upper Valley community. That is our guiding principle. And number two, it was continuity of education for our students. And so, this is all set up so that even in isolation space, as long as they are feeling well enough to participate, they can still access the internet and they can still participate in their classes.
Thank you, Justin. And thank you those who wrote in with the questions. I look forward to taking more of them if time allows. And I very much look forward to the conversation a month from now when we can speak in greater detail about some of the questions that I know are on your mind regarding winter term operation. And now I’d like to turn to our guest, our special guest, President Phil Hanlon, member of the Dartmouth Class of 1977, professor of mathematics, and president of Dartmouth College for the past seven-plus years. So, Phil, welcome. Good to have you here.
Thank you, Joe. It’s great to be here.
So, Phil, I’d like to ask you just a few questions before we turn to the questions that are coming in from our broader viewership. And I’d like to start, if I may, by just asking you questions about what it is like for you as a leader to be leading a campus through COVID in a time like this. You’ve had a long and distinguished career as an academic administrator. You’ve encountered lots of challenges along the way. What’s COVID like compared to the other problems you’ve encountered as a leader?
Well, thanks, Joe. And first thing I’d say is it’s just much more complicated than anything I’ve ever encountered before for a few reasons. Number one is there is no playbook. None of us have experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. So, I can’t look back a couple of decades and say, “What did we do back then?” Second is we don’t have one challenge. We have three simultaneous challenges. One is keeping the campus healthy, then carrying out our mission in view of that, and then dealing with the financial fallout from COVID.
The crisis that comes closest to mind for me is the 2009 financial collapse. I was leading budgeting for another university at the time and there were a couple of weeks where we didn’t know if we were going to be able to meet payroll. But what we never had to do was change the way we actually taught and did research. We didn’t have to change the ways we carry out our core mission. And so, this to me is a much more complicated situation.
I would say I would echo some of the things you said earlier. I think we are getting through this as a community coming together around hard work and shared sacrifice. And I’ll emphasize the shared sacrifice. So, this includes students who are persevering despite missing the traditional Dartmouth experience, and faculty and staff who have adjusted to new ways of doing their work while balancing complex challenges on the home front, members of the senior leadership team who have voluntarily returned a percentage of their salary, between 5% and 20%, to help the institutions through difficult times, and alumni who have generously contributed to our bridge fund. So that’s just a few examples. It’s the community coming together to get us through these unprecedented challenges.
Thanks for mentioning that Phil. As I think about this, and I point it out to you from time to time, when you offered me the chance to take on the role of provost, you didn’t say anything about global pandemic being part of the job responsibilities, but as we both know, one doesn’t get to pick the situation. One doesn’t get to pick the moment. You have to respond to the challenge that’s put in front of you. And for me, exactly as you say, the way the community has come together has just been extraordinary and inspiring and I think gives me great hope and encouragement in terms of our ability to get through this together. What are you hearing? I know you’re in touch with other presidents frequently. What are you hearing from them in terms of operations on their campus or information that you’re sharing that helps us manage our way through this?
Yeah. Good question. And the first thing I’d say is that I’m hearing a lot more from my fellow presidents. We are interacting a lot more than we would normally, and I’m interacting with a wider variety of my peers. So not just the Ivy-plus group, but a number of small colleges and college presidents and so on. There’s great consistency in what everyone is saying. Those campuses that did exactly the things you mentioned, campuses with widespread frequent testing that are enforcing masking and distancing, that have active contract tracing, that have de densified their dorms and classrooms and labs, they have very low prevalence rates of the virus, less than 0.05% prevalence. The disaster stories that are very much in the news, those are campuses that have deviated from these best practices in one way or another. So, the media misperception that college campuses are high risk is exactly that. It’s a misperception.
In fact, those campuses that follow the practices mentioned above, they are amongst the safest environments in America. So, to echo again something you said at the end of your remarks, we figured out now how to be safe and how to carry out our mission. Now, what we all want and are learning about is how much flexibility we can give members of our community in terms of gathering and socializing while still achieving the health outcomes that these measures ensure. And I know you and your team are sitting down to reflect on that and are thinking hard about it. And as you mentioned, we’ve been hearing from parents and students of this, and I look forward to your reflections in the weeks ahead.
So, thanks Phil. So, building on that, one of the things, one of the questions I’m asked frequently, particularly in faculty gatherings, but in some staff gatherings as you know, is around the current budget situation at Dartmouth and the projected budget deficits for this fiscal year for FY ’21 and for FY ’22. We took tremendous steps as a community to balance our operating budget in FY ’20. Things look encouraging due to the sacrifice leaders and divisions and employees have made across the campus for FY ’21, but there’s question about what happens after this. COVID was certainly a major hit, but we’re also wrestling with issues that are the result of long-term unfunded deferred maintenance. And I know from conversations I’ve had around campus that not everyone quite understands what you mean when you speak about unfunded deferred maintenance and why you’ve made it a priority to address this in your presidency. So, if you can comment on that.
Sure, absolutely. So, here’s the good news. The good news is that when we build a building, we build it for the long haul. So, we build buildings to last 100 years, 150 years, but after 50 to 60 years, even the very best buildings are in need of deep renovation. And a good example is the Hop. The Hop is an amazing facility. It was pathbreaking when it was constructed 60 years ago, but today the technology infrastructure does not support modern performance. The air-handling, the heat, the air conditioning, they’re outdated. The spaces are not designed to match current teaching and performance needs. So, it needs a major renovation. Probably the whole building when it’s all done, it’s going to cost upwards of $200 million to renovate it. And we are seeking right now to raise $75 million to perform the first phase of that renovation.
So, looking back the day the Hop was built 60 years ago, we should have started planning financially for this moment, but it takes real discipline for organizations to put away sufficient funding to handle these once-every-50-year renewals. And that’s the deferred maintenance challenge. We just do not have enough in our budget for those kinds of long-term refreshing of facilities. Now, I would say, as you mentioned, we’ve been focused on this the last seven years and we’ve made real progress in renewals through the call to lead. So, Dartmouth Hall is being refreshed. The Hood has been remade and expanded, Murdough. And in addition, we’ve been looking forward. And so, we don’t land in this situation again, and we’ve been increasing our annual deferred maintenance budget by about a million and a half per year, every year.
And so that may not sound like a lot given the challenge ahead, but we’re going to keep at and by 2030, we will have increased our annual set aside by $25 million per year. And so that adds up and will hopefully allow us to not be in the same situation we’ve been in where we do not have the resources in place to refresh our aging buildings. I would say we’ve got two huge deferred maintenance challenges ahead of us right now, one being the power system and one being our undergraduate dorms. Our steam tunnels, they will not last much longer. Some of them were built 100 years ago and a number of our dorms are also in very poor shape. And so, we are, as you know, Joe, we’re talking with the trustees about how to handle these two very large costs, which across generations will serve generations to come.
All right. Yeah. Thank you. Part of me, Phil, as an engineer, I have to say, I am both pleased with my profession that our steam tunnels have lasted 100 years. Another part of me reacts with horror that we have steam tunnels that are still 100-years-old that are a functional and core part of our infrastructure. And generally, it’s time to replace those kinds of structures after a century. And so, I certainly appreciate the importance of being attentive to it. I’d like to turn just a few final questions before we open it up to get your view on the impact of COVID on higher education and also on Dartmouth. Some commentators and writers and academics have said that they expect COVID will, and I quote, “Permanently change higher education, making remote learning more acceptable and a part of most every institution’s portfolio.” Do you agree? And what impact or effect do you think it will have on us here at Dartmouth?
Well, thanks, Joe. A great question and a topic that is very much on the minds of my fellow presidents when we all talk. The first thing to say is online teaching, it’s not new. There have been expanding options over at least the past 10 to 15 years, but what is new is the following. Before COVID, the adoption of online teaching within much of higher ed was slow because faculty were largely unfamiliar with it as a tool. Now, faculty at every campus have had a forced experiment with online teaching. And so, we all now have a feel for its capabilities and its limitations. And so, what I would say is that COVID has not sort of set a new direction, it’s accelerated trends that were already there. What will this mean for Dartmouth? What are my predictions for Dartmouth? First, I think that our faculty will adopt more widely the best of online teaching.
And let me give you an example. One thing that’s happening in many classrooms much more than before is we’re bringing outside experts into the classroom through Zoom. And we’ve all discovered if you don’t ask someone to travel all the way to Hanover, it’s a lot easier to schedule them to be in your class. Second, although I do not see Dartmouth offering a fully online undergraduate degree, I do believe that we will explore what we might offer the world in the non-degree space or an expanded set of hybrid master’s programs. And lastly, what does Dartmouth bring to the table? We actually bring a powerhouse. Our expertise and teaching combined with the reach of online instruction is just flat-out a powerhouse. And so, we have lots of opportunities ahead of us.
Thanks. And I have to say, I’m struck by your point in what I’ve seen with my faculty colleagues, our faculty colleagues, bringing outside experts into the classroom in a way that wasn’t possible. I know that Dartmouth alum Jake Tapper ’91 from CNN has been a wonderful contributor to programming and conversations with students. Charlie Whelan ’88, who teaches in government, has brought former Sen. Judd Gregg in to engage with students in the classroom. These are the kinds of things that it’s really wonderful to see how creatively we’re all taking advantage of that. So, let me ask you a question if I may about your own teaching. So, you are the president of an AAU research university, one of the country’s 65 leading research universities, and you are continuing to teach graduate and undergraduate classes. So, tell me why you continue to teach. And then I have to ask you, I looked this up. Your class is on “Representation of Symmetric Groups.” It’d be interesting to hear what that means in lay terms.
OK. Sure, Joe. So, the first part is easy. Why do I continue to teach? Two reasons. In my mind, teaching is the most important work we do on this campus and I want to be part of that, but besides that, Dartmouth students are a remarkable set of individuals and I just love getting to know them better. So, I love being in the classroom here. Representations of the symmetric group, it’s really the study of permutations. So, for example, when you riffle shuffle a deck of cards, you’re moving the deck from one ordering to another, and you riffle shuffled because you believe that if you shuffle enough times, you’re going to put the deck in a more or less random order.
So that was one of the examples we looked at in this course I’m teaching right now. We covered the remarkable result due to Diaconis and Bayer that you actually achieve almost no randomization through your first five shuffles and then you have a rapid mixing phenomenon where the deck becomes close to random after seven to eight shuffles. So, if you can imagine that you’re not doing much of anything through five shuffles, then all of a sudden, the deck randomizes and it’s close to random after seven or eight shuffles. So, this is exciting. I could go on and on, but I know we have other topics to cover.
Do you use that information to your advantage when you’re shuffling in family card games over the holidays?
Well, I certainly make sure that people are shuffling enough times.
All right. So, let me end, Phil, just by asking you one question about the significance of today of course, is Veterans Day. And then I want to turn to outside questioners. Today is of course Veterans Day, and you’ve put out two messages to the Dartmouth community. I just wanted to ask if you had any thoughts on Veterans Day and its significance on the campus life Dartmouth.
Sure, absolutely, Joe. And the first is to echo what you said earlier. I have great respect and admiration for every veteran and appreciation for their sacrifice and commitment to our country. So, bravo to all veterans. Second, I just want to observe that we often talk about how diversity of every type promotes deeper learning and more effective research. And this includes diversity of background and experience and veterans bring important perspectives and a very distinct set of experiences to our community, which adds value to all of our teaching and learning. And lastly, I just urge everyone to look at the Dartmouth homepage today. There is a captivating page there devoted to veterans. Please, if you have a chance, take a look.
All right. Thank you, Phil. Well, thanks for the discussion, Phil. It’s always good to catch up with you and I enjoy the comments. Justin, I’m going to turn it over to you now and we’ll see what questions are being asked from outside.
Great. Thanks a lot, Joe. And Phil, I’d like to echo Joe’s thanks in your making yourself available to come talk to us today. This is great and something we’ve been looking forward to for a while. So, thanks for returning to community conversations.
The first question is sort of, so the questionnaire writes in about the Dartmouth community. And so, I think one of the distinguishing characteristics of Dartmouth is the nature of this tight-knit community. And so, a bunch of questions that sort of get at this, and it’s how do you think about creating and maintaining such a special community when we have to do so much of what we do remotely? And then particularly, how do you think about the first-year students who are coming into this incredible community, but are doing so in a way that is kind of unusual and makes it more of a challenge than it would otherwise be to be fully embraced by that community?
Yeah. OK. So, thanks Justin. And I think as all of you know, I experienced this awesome Dartmouth undergraduate life many, many years ago, but I think the community element was as strong then as it is now. And there is no doubt that it is one of the things I worry about the most. We are not operating under optimal conditions. Let’s face it. We are dealing with a global health crisis and this is not the way any of us would want to be conducting our business, but it is what we need to do right now. And so, I think that to the extent we can, I’m glad Joe and his team are looking at how we can create more opportunities for interaction and opportunities in the outdoors because the outdoors is part of the magic of this place. The proximity, the Outing Club experiences, the inspiration of sitting atop Mount Moosilauke, through the calm and peace of the Connecticut River in the morning—this is all part of the magic of this place. And so, the more we can embrace that, the more we can tap into that, again, despite this pandemic, the better.
Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more on that, Phil. Both you and Joe both used the term embrace in talking about the outdoors and the winter, and I think that’s exactly right. I look forward to the ways in which we’re going to figure out how to do that in this crazy and unique and challenging year.
Next question. One of the questions that Joe and I get repeatedly is about Ivy League sports. Joe and I always have to say some form of, “Well, that’s an Ivy League decision, it’s not a Dartmouth decision, so there’s not a whole lot we can say.” Well, we have you here and the Ivy League presidents meet, and they talk about sports and athletics and the schedule. Is there anything that you can tell us about what it’s looking like for the winter? Just one other thing, I remember in the fall that there was talk that maybe there would be football in the spring. Is that really something that is possible?
Justin, thank you. I think for those who are anxiously awaiting decisions about winter term sports or the possibility of fall sports in the spring, what I would say is stay tuned, that the Ivy League presidents have been meeting very regularly and discussing working through all these items. I think that you will see some news on that very shortly.
But let me just step back and think probably a little bit at a higher level, because I think that’s one thing that really distinguishes the Ivy League, is our viewpoint on intercollegiate athletics, which is really around the value to the individual who’s participating, so the student athlete, the personal growth that comes from intercollegiate athletics. I totally agree with this, learning resilience, learning teamwork, learning the value of hard work, athletics is one good way to learn all those things, not the only way of course, but one good way to develop all that.
When we talk about intercollegiate athletics, we are really talking about the development of the student athletes themselves. We’re thinking about that rather than thinking about revenue or anything else that might come with big-time college sports. As we make decisions about how we want to proceed, we do think about our student athletes, so students first. We’re interested in their growth and of course their safety and the safety of the community.
Phil, another topic that comes in week after week, has to do with financial aid. I know that Dartmouth recently announced a commission in support of financial aid. I wonder if you could say a little bit about what that commission is and what it’s doing, and does it reflect a view on your part that we’re going to need to spend even more than we already do on financial aid because need will go up as a result of the pandemic and the recession and the unemployment crisis that we’re seeing unfold.
Sure. Thanks, Justin. Let me start with the most important point, which is that Dartmouth education is very special, and your family’s financial circumstances should never prevent you from getting a Dartmouth education. We are committed to need-blind admissions for domestic students, we have a goal to expand that to international students, and we are committed to meeting the full demonstrated need of every student.
Having said that, you are correct that it is our view that we need more investment in financial aid. Part of that is the pandemic of course, financial aid applications have skyrocketed since the pandemic began because so many Dartmouth families have had their circumstances change. But beyond the pandemic, looking beyond the pandemic, to a comment I made earlier that we really believe diversity of background and experience brings value to our campus, and that includes socioeconomic diversity. We want to make sure that we have the resources available, again, so that any student admitted is able to attend, regardless of financial circumstances.
We knew that going into the campaign. Financial aid is actually, in terms of the goals of the current Call to Lead campaign, it’s $1billion out of the $3 billion. One-third of the campaign goal is devoted to financial aid across the institution, undergraduates as well as the professional schools. The pandemic has only highlighted the priority of financial aid.
The Presidential Commission was a reaction to this moment, it’s historic. There’ve been very few presidential commissions in Dartmouth’s history. This seemed like a moment, so we brought together an amazing collection of volunteers, alumni, and parents who are totally committed to helping us do a few things. One is to tell the story as effectively as we can, to take the message out to our community about why this is so important, but also helping us craft the best strategies and actually helping us carry the message themselves directly to our alumni base. I think it’s definitely the case, it’s always been the case with Dartmouth, that each generation make sure that the next generation can succeed. That’s part of the community at Dartmouth that you talked about earlier. This is an instance where we are asking the alumni community to step up and say, “This is your moment to make sure that the next generation can succeed.”
Phil, you said in that last response that financial aid applications have skyrocketed. Someone writes in and asks whether or not you are worried that the COVID pandemic will depress regular applications to come to Dartmouth. Are you concerned that perhaps that our particular model of education is going to be less appealing if people are concerned about pandemics?
Yeah, it’s a great question and it comes with just the overall uncertainty of this moment. I mean, there is so much that is uncertain at this time. I think we will get our first glimpse of that when we look at our early decision application numbers. I know the deadline has passed, but I don’t know when exactly we’re going to reveal those numbers. But it is certainly, of course, something that we’re watching closely. Whether they will go up as a result of the pandemic or down, I don’t know. I can argue it both ways in my head. I guess what I’d say is it’s something we’ll watch closely, and we will see.
Phil, this question, this deals with, I think, terrain that we’ve covered before, but the way that the question is structured leads me to believe it might appeal to you and your way of thinking. Questioner asks, “How does Dartmouth balance the risk, the risk being COVID infection, versus the reward, the reward being the full college experience.” How does Dartmouth value the risk-reward analysis in this particular moment when thinking about how to populate the campus?
Yeah. Again, I think I’ll come back to the experience that we’ve seen, and our peers have seen. It seems like what’s interesting about this is that there are some very simple things, masking, distancing, surveillance testing, de-densification of living quarters, that actually work. They work not just on our campus; they work on every campus that’s employing them. I think that makes the risk-reward calculation a little easier, because we know if we do those things and we do them effectively, then we believe, I believe, I’m confident that we will have a safe campus environment. Once you know that, then you just ask yourself, “Well, how much flexibility, how much can I open up and still do those things?” I think that’s the work that Joe and Kathryn and their teams will be looking at over the next month.
Phil, we’re quickly coming to time. I think I have time for just one more question, and this one is about commencement and whether or not you know yet whether it will happen on the Green or what you think it will look like or what your hopes are really for commencement this coming June, not to mention the commencement that was supposed to happen last June that will also be coming in the spring.
OK. Yeah, great question. Let me start by saying that I love commencement. It is my favorite event of the year. I love the joy, the sense of accomplishment that we all feel, the bittersweet feeling of sending away members of our community, knowing that they’ll come back. I love commencement and I hope more than anything that we are able to hold it in the majesty of the Green in front of the Baker Library, I think that’s an amazing setting.
I would say our current planning is that it’s going to go forward. I would say, like so much, there’s so much uncertainty right now, but I think our best bet is with the vaccine rollout. We’re beginning to see a possible timetable, as Joe mentioned, that there may be widespread vaccination of adults by the end of March or April or something like that, which would, I think, put us definitely in the zone to hold commencement in its traditional setting. Whether we’ll have as much hand-shaking as we’ve had in the past, that I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to celebrating with all of the graduating seniors from the Class of ’21, and then separately from the Class of ’20 this June.
Well, hopefully, we’ll all be on the Green for commencement with lots of fist bumps. That is my hope for June 2021.
Phil, thank you so much for joining us. It was great to have you. We will have you back again, definitely. When exactly, we don’t know, but we’ll figure that out. Thank you so much for your time. It was great to be with you today. With that, Joe, I’m going to go back to you.
Thanks, Joe. Thanks, Justin.
Thank you, Justin, and Phil, let me add my thanks. It’s been wonderful to have you here and have the opportunity to have this conversation about leadership and campus operations. I will never think about shuffling a deck of cards in quite the same way again, so thank you for that.
This to everyone concludes this week’s version of Community Conversation. We will be back next on Dec. 9. We’ll be taking a break in two weeks because of the Thanksgiving holiday. We will be back on Dec. 9, and as I said earlier, it’s my hope and intention to be able to outline the details around all of the winter term considerations that I mentioned, those that have been raised in questions and conversations from parents and students, and also things that we are thinking about independently and internally and ways we can move, steps we can take to make the winter term truly engaging for our students.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. For those of you who are traveling, travel safely. I have to say, please pay attention to quarantine restrictions, both at your destination and when you return. Be healthy, be safe, and we look forward to seeing you again shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday. Take care, everyone.