Fall academic COVID-19 preparations discussed at faculty meeting

Team 2020 tasked with making decisions required to resume normal campus operations

Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz presented several possibilities for the fall academic term during the April 22 faculty meeting, including remote teaching, in-person classes, socially-distant learning, or a hybrid scenario.

Waitz said that some students, such as international students, may need to engage in remote learning while others may be back on campus for in-person classes. He said, however, that this partly-remote education may be more difficult to implement than either fully remote or fully in-person options.

Waitz added that a “Team 2020” is tasked with gradually resuming normal campus operations. 

Team 2020 is distinct from the COVID-19 planning team and continuity working groups, which have expanded to include working groups for community, space planning, personal protective equipment, and community continuity. 

The presentation slides wrote that the team will “forecast the key decisions that need to be made, by whom and when,” and inform the senior team, academic council, and other stakeholders.

Additionally, the team is responsible for defining “all the switches that need to be turned-off to scale-back operations” or “turned-on” to resume normal operations, according to the slides. Its objectives include enabling MIT to respond in a “nimble manner” to support the Institute’s missions, values, and current needs.

The slides wrote that the team will assess state and national efforts to “flatten the curve”; medical, scientific, and technological progress including testing, monitoring, therapeutics, and vaccines; and new social, cultural, and ethical standards.

New behavioral strictures for resuming work may include wearing face-masks, holding large classes online, encouraging remote work for high-risk populations, having labs work in teams, and heightening cleaning standards, the slides wrote.

Next steps include preparing for both online teaching and in-person education, as well as continuing to monitor the health of the MIT community, Waitz said.

Professor Yossi Sheffi PhD ’78, director of the Center for Transportation and Logistics, commented that due to visa logistics, international students will likely not be able to come to campus in the fall, even if MIT allows in-person classes. He also said that half-remote teaching could have some classes be in person and some remote, instead of all classes being half-and-half. Alternatively, some classes could have online-only lectures and in-person or mixed recitations, Sheffi said.

Architecture professor Caroline Jones encouraged Team 2020 to increase their “faculty engagement,” particularly to “exploit the expertise” of the School of Architecture and Planning faculty in designing a safe return to campus.

Music professor Emily Pollock asked when on-campus childcare will re-open, adding that childcare can be re-opened even if undergrads remain off campus. Many attendees also expressed support for Pollock’s question in the meeting’s chat. 

Waitz replied that the team cannot yet make that decision, as “any plans have to be conditioned on the health and safety of the community on campus.”

Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 wrote in the meeting’s chat that the concern about childcare is “very much top of mind” for him and that “we need to make sure we address this.”

Literature professor Shankar Raman ’86 pointed out that some faculty may not be comfortable teaching in-person classes due to health risks. He also said that MIT should look at other countries’ models and actions to incorporate into and inspire MIT’s. Raman emphasized that hands-on lab classes are not the only classes that lose out when conducted virtually, as much of the experience of small, discussion-based humanities classes cannot be replicated over Zoom.