Reif joins Harvard and Stanford presidents in calling for ‘drastic action’ on coronavirus

Presidents express that university actions have been ‘uncomfortably extreme,’ but necessary

MIT President L. Rafael Reif, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, and Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne published an opinion piece in The New York Times today calling for all communities and organizations, including those without COVID-19 cases, to take important actions to slow the rate of infection. 

The three called for limits on sizes of gatherings and closing bars, restaurants, and schools. They also called for “self-discipline of social distancing” in order to “buy time for the biomedical community to invent solutions.”

“Regardless of the number of cases in your community, the time to act is right now: Public health experts tell us that as a society, the steps we take this week will have an immense impact on determining whether this crisis becomes a catastrophe,” the three wrote. 

The presidents expressed remorse at the disruptive nature of actions at their own universities, which included “suddenly sending virtually all of our undergraduates home,” cancelling nearly all events and in-person meetings, and “asking everyone who could work remotely to do so right away.”

“Initially, these actions felt awful, and uncomfortably extreme,” they wrote. In the end, however, they found that such disruptions were necessary for the well-being of not only their own universities’ students, faculty, and staff, but of the public as a whole. 

The presidents concluded, “Given what we have learned in these past few weeks, we are convinced that taking difficult steps now, for the public good, will mean getting back to normal in the future with fewer friends and colleagues to mourn.”