IT Virtual Town Hall recap - July 2

July 9, 2020

John opened the Town Hall by reflecting on recent announcements sent by University senior leaders, including President Salovey and Provost Strobel’s Decisions for Fall 2020 and Provost Strobel’s Research Reactivation Phase 2

He shared that while 15% of IT staff are currently on campus, he expects this number to grow with the research reactivation. However, he doesn’t expect “our posture or this number to change significantly.” He also reiterated that staff who can work from home should continue to do so, and even if authorized to return, should minimize their time on campus. Consider visiting the FAQ section of Yale’s COVID-19 Workplace Guidance website for additional information on returning to campus.

John reflected on the recent Climate, Culture, and Inclusion (CCI) facilitated check-in related to George Floyd’s murder, and thanked CCI for continuing to raise the bar and help the community. He mentioned that they will be expanding on this conversation moving forward.

John expressed his gratitude to IT Staff for their continued excellence in supporting  the Yale community.

The following questions, and John Barden’s answers, were taken from the July 2 virtual IT Town Hall meeting. This includes questions submitted via the Ask John survey.

How is ITS planning to respond to the listening tours, in response to George Floyd’s murder and BLM activities?

This was covered in John’s opening remarks, above.

Many people try to take Fridays in the summer as paid time off (PTO); is it possible to move the Town Halls to Thursday?

I can look into that.

Will IT Staff be tested weekly for COVID-19, like the students? 

I suspect the answer for most staff will be “no.” The testing program hasn’t yet been finalized. There is some possibility of gateway testing prior to the start of the academic cycle. But the intense weekly testing being discussed for residential populations is expected to apply to students and to faculty and staff with a high degree of regular interaction with those students. We are still determining who is most likely to need that level of intense regular screening to maintain the health of those who are vulnerable. We are being extraordinarily cautious about the public health requirements for that population specifically. For the majority of those in the workplace, if we stay diligent about adherence to public health guidelines, then our risk of exposure is low, and daily symptom checking is seen as an adequate level of provision to remain disease free. I expect some level of voluntary testing to be available to all staff on an ongoing basis. This isn’t finalized but it seems extremely likely.

Is the university making contingency plans for an all-remote Fall semester if the public health situation changes?

We are ready for this, should it come to pass. No one expects that right now, but we are designing academic delivery to occur in a way that represents all classes having online components. This is not being driven so much by that potential concern, as it is by the reality that many students, including a large portion of international students, cannot return. We have cohorts of students (freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors) who may be impacted. With the plan for dedensification driving online delivery for a large portion of our coursework, we are prepared to continue our work regardless of the health circumstances.

Is there assistance for those at home to ensure proper equipment and ergonomics?

There’s a work from home committee, led by the HR organization, who is looking into this, but no decisions have been made yet. We have a few members participating from IT to help guide technology choices. The remaining policy requirements are being guided by HR professionals working with a broad team. I appreciate that everyone is facing different circumstances, and in some cases, working from home is not easy. We have offered opportunities for offices to be accessible, to collect equipment from your workstations. I hope this has addressed your most urgent needs, but please let me know if this is not the case, so that we can explore doing this again.

Will contract tracing software will be mandatory to install on private devices or will that be optional?

I don’t know where we are going to go with that right now. We just completed two pilot activities with the contact tracing team and Public Health. Initial indications are both promising and problematic. Technology is promising in helping us understand contact, but cost and complexity of deployment is potentially problematic if we choose to issue devices to avoid privacy concerns related to installations on private devices. We are still trying to figure out how best to support what could be a very complex contact tracing requirement for the fall. What we’ve been trying to do through technology is augment what happens manually. While I’m excited about the potential there, I’m also very cautious about the concerns that have been raised as well as general privacy considerations and feasibility.

With all of the new technology solutions built or being built to support Return to Campus, what are your thoughts on ongoing support/staffing/service ownership?

We are moving really fast to develop technology solutions that have never existed before for the university. In some respects, we are moving so fast that we know we are taking some operational risks in terms of how they are being supported because we just don’t have much choice. What we will need to clarify, while we’re building these solutions, is our short-term plans for supporting them operationally. It is unclear to anyone, nationally or globally, whether this will be a problem lasting a couple of months, a couple of years, or somewhere in between. If the services we are building become multiple year problems, we will have a fair amount of realignment ahead, to manage finances while supporting our return to campus—more to come. In the short-term, we’re doing the best we can to work with existing resources from service lines across the board. Everyone in the institution understands that they are having to make some concessions about the pace and desired outcomes planned a year ago based on the situation we are in now. I’m really proud of how, not just IT, but the University has pulled together to respond to a very complex, very dynamic, and very uncertain set of circumstances and adjust path.

Given the arrangement for this fall, how will Public Computing spaces and public computers be impacted?

Most aspects of public assets are being really carefully looked at to determine whether or not they need to existthis includes everything from shared refrigerators to public computing labs. The general model that Sandra Germenis and Rick Kremer’s teams have been pushing is to make access to the labs not necessary. By using technology such as virtual desktop environment, this allows students to use software that normally is only accessed from the labs, from anywhere. This is important because it reduces the amount of shared assets. It’s also in reflection that we are going to have a portion of students who are not going to be on campus and who will have legitimate needs for access to software that has been historically available only from our public computing labs. For both of those reasons, we’ve moved pretty aggressively and expect that by fall, we will have largely eliminated the need for access to public computing labs. The second piece, is also predicated on students actually having technology access. There are programmatic things we are doing to assure there is some equity of access for students that is not dependent on labs.

Can you talk about Jack Callahan’s comments on the budget outlook for 2021?

Globally, nationally, and locally, there is a tremendous amount of economic uncertainty. We’ve had to dramatically reduce traditional sources of revenue for Yalethey have taken a beating over the last few months. There is enough uncertainty that people are being very cautious about creating significant ongoing financial commitments. There is a real recognition that we may have to further curtail spending to balance the books for the next couple of years. I think the university is very pragmatic. Jack Callahan has been very thoughtful about saying that we don’t know [what’s ahead], so we aren’t taking a huge cut across the board right now. Instead we are going to look carefully at the economic indicators and annually make adjustments as we need to. The hard part for us is we’ve made some adjustments for FY21 and we may need to do so for FY22, as well. I appreciate your patience as the university works through these details.

We are being very cautious about taking on new expenditures, and I will do everything I can to maintain this team as our most important asset. While I can’t make any promises in that regard, it is my intention is to work through any finance reduction requirements as thoughtfully as I can and try to eliminate the impact it has on this team on an individual level, meaning that there are other financial categories that we would have to look at first.

Everyone in this institution understands the dependencies they have on all of you right now. While that doesn’t mean that we should expect that our budget is untouchable—please don’t think thatpeople are being very careful about not disrupting what we are doing to help support the institution’s success. There is a lot of commitment to helping each of us do our jobs and do it well with the resources we have to do it well. Hopefully, you understand the sincerity of that and how much people really appreciate what you are doing.

John closed the Town Hall thanking the team and expressing that, with the large amount of information coming in, the leadership team will continue to try to clarify as decisions are finalized along the way.
Remember, you can submit time-sensitive “Ask John” questions through the bi-weekly virtual IT Town Hall meetings. Other questions submitted through Ask John will be held for future editions or asked at an upcoming meeting. Note: Questions previously answered in earlier Virtual IT Town Halls will not be republished unless new information is available.
The next IT Virtual Town Hall will be from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on July 17, 2020. Should this change, per the request to move meetings to Thursday’s, an updated Outlook invitation will be sent to staff.