Update on Continuity of Critical Research (March 18, 2020)

To: FAS Science Division and SEAS Faculty and Postdoctoral Fellows

Cc: FAS Department and Program Chairs; FAS Dean’s Office; FAS Steering; Graduate and Professional School Deans

Dear Colleagues,

We write to update you further on our efforts to maintain research continuity in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, and to address specific questions relating to laboratories in SEAS and the FAS Science Division.

The University’s priority is to maximize the safety of its faculty, staff, and students, and to ensure the well-being of the larger community, while maintaining continuity for core functions that support research to the extent that is safe and reasonable. We are also working to maintain certain kinds of on-campus research determined to be critical. Work is understood to be critical if it meets one of two criteria:

  1. Work directly relating to COVID-19.  Such research should continue if at all possible, within the strictest safety guidelines, as previously articulated. (Examples could include: FAS labs engaged in the challenging sequencing efforts related to COVID-19; in the study of COVID-19 variants and their mutations; in producing assays or reagents for COVID-19 detection; or in the study of novel anti-viral therapies.)
  2. Critical laboratory infrastructure functions. Such functions could include maintaining cells, plants, or animals, or maintaining critical equipment that requires regular monitoring.

If you believe that your laboratory is conducting work that is critical in one of these two senses, contact your department chair immediately; a petition for special dispensation under either of the above criteria should be submitted by Thursday, March 19, at noon. Such petitions should have clearly articulated plans to adhere to safety guidelines, including who will be in the laboratory, for how long, and how their safety will be assured. We (FAS Science and SEAS Dean Jeff Brock and FAS Dean Tamar Gendler) will review each petition together with incoming Vice Provost for Research Mike Crair and Provost Scott Strobel to assess quickly whether proposed plans meet safety criteria as well as the most stringent criteria for critical research.

On-campus research or activity that does not meet either of these criteria for criticality should be ramped down so that lab members can be offsite no later than Friday, March 20.

Naturally, research that can be done remotely (at home) should continue as usual, and collaboration should continue in virtual form, both within and across laboratories. We hold out hope that a period of time off-campus to engage in data analysis, plan new experiments, brush up on adjacent fields, and innovate new research directions may have unforeseen positive impacts on your own career as well as the careers of your colleagues and students.

We recognize these are difficult circumstances, and that we are taking actions that will have significant impacts on the careers our students and others have chosen to pursue under our auspices. Actions taken now can save lives, simply put.

Thanks for all you are doing to maintain the health, safety, and community within your departments.

Sincerely and with our deepest thanks for your efforts,

Jeff and Tamar

Jeffrey F. Brock
FAS Dean of Science
Dean, School of Engineering & Applied Science

Tamar Szabó Gendler
Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences