March 19, 2020
Dear Members of the Yale Community,
When I spoke to incoming students at the Yale College Opening Assembly at the beginning of this academic year, I said, “There is so much we do not know. Let us embrace, together, our humility—our willingness to admit what we have yet to discover.” I had no idea then that those words would be particularly meaningful months later. The novel coronavirus pandemic reminds us that despite all that we know, we have many more questions to answer. And now more than ever, we need to bring Yale’s strengths and expertise, across all disciplines, to bear on ending this pandemic.
As we have seen, events on our campus have unfolded quickly as we prepare for and respond to the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We have taken bold and swift measures, based on the advice of Yale’s faculty and other investigators, to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and members of the broader communities of which we are a part. At this difficult time, I wanted to share with you some thoughts about Yale’s history and the work before us today.
Over the past 318 years, Yale has experienced its share of momentous events. During the American Revolution, Yale College closed a few times, including once for about two years. Then, in July 1779, the British attacked New Haven, and Yale president Ezra Stiles was forced to flee the city with his family, taking the college library and records with him. More recently, during the May Day protests in 1970, Yale’s campus remained open, but many classes did not meet.
The university has not only weathered these and other disruptions; its students, faculty, staff, and alumni have also made critical contributions to broader society in times of great need. Then, as now, the people of Yale seized opportunities to share knowledge and expertise and to alleviate suffering among our neighbors, near and far.
Today, our faculty, other investigators, and clinical staff are at the frontlines responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yale experts in public health, medicine, and nursing are advising governments and policymakers around the world, and helping the public better understand the virus and measures we must take to mitigate its spread. Faculty and students are exploring possible treatments for the disease, modeling the epidemiology of the virus, and studying its genetics to inform vaccine development.
Beyond our scientific disciplines, Yale faculty in divinity, management, law, psychology, economics, and many other fields are harnessing the power of research to provide insights on and answers to complex questions. From using social networks to map the disease’s spread, to helping people manage anxiety, to advising lawmakers, Yale experts are supporting people and institutions as we face this pandemic together.
Recent events have shown me the incredible resilience and resourcefulness of the Yale community. I want to take this opportunity to extend a personal thank you to faculty and staff for their expertise, creativity, and flexibility in maintaining the core functions of the university during these challenging times. To those of you who are coming to campus to perform critical jobs, you have my heartfelt gratitude for your dedication. To students, I am proud of your resilience and your focus on the greater good. To alumni, your wisdom and willingness to help others are inspiring and exemplify the spirit of the Yale community. And we owe a special debt of gratitude to every health care professional at Yale, across our nation, and around the world for their sacrifices and heroic efforts.
At this historic moment, Yale’s mission—our commitment to education, research, and teaching—is more vital than ever. As never before, we see the critical role Yale and other leading universities play in creating knowledge that improves lives today and for future generations. Of course, this commitment must coexist with another one: to safeguard the health and well-being of our campus and home communities.
The vast majority of our students are now at home, and only faculty and staff deemed critical to the university’s operations are on campus. In my nearly forty years at Yale, I have never seen the campus so quiet and empty. I have made these difficult decisions based on the best advice and information I have received from experts at Yale and beyond. We have a moral obligation not only to protect ourselves from illness, but also to prevent the spread of the disease to others, especially to those who may be most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. By acting quickly to “flatten the curve” of the rate of infection, we hope we will reduce the risk that our hospitals will become overwhelmed and that vulnerable individuals will become gravely ill. Looking to the future, we will endeavor to maintain the continuity of teaching, research, and scholarship at Yale, understanding that we may need to make further adjustments as circumstances change.
Like many of you, I regret the significant disappointments and hardships these disruptions will cause our students and other members of the community. Although classes will meet online, there is no replacement for the daily rituals and special events that make life at Yale so joyous and meaningful. Our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, especially our Yale College seniors, have sacrificed a great deal: they will miss performances, recitals, athletic contests, and many other important moments. I share their profound emotions at the unexpected and radical changes that have taken place this semester.
Yale’s work is ongoing; each day brings new considerations. The best, most up-to-date source for information about Yale’s planning and response to COVID-19 is http://covid-19.yale.edu. I would encourage you to check this site regularly for the latest news and announcements from Yale. YaleNews and its daily email, Yale Today, are excellent resources as well. You may also be interested in a recent series of interviews with me and other Yale leaders about our response to the pandemic.
For over 300 years, Yale has demonstrated leadership and resolve in moments of crisis. Today, I am confident that the people of Yale will respond likewise: bringing the strength of our mission and our commitment to light and truth to the work before us. We will continue to ask questions and provide the answers the world needs. I extend my deepest gratitude to all of you for your support of Yale and for the care you show others.
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology