ITS virtual Town Hall September 29 recap

October 1, 2020

John opened the Town Hall by sharing that campus health is positive and favorable, research and clinical care operations are moving forward, and classes are on track. Around 11,000 people are on campus each day and they are being very thoughtful and cautious by following health guidelines, honoring their community commitments, and staying home wherever it is not necessary to be on campus. In particular, the undergraduate students have behaved very well, and a variety of sanctioned social activities are being organized to provide them with safe outlets for social interaction. 

He shared that vigorous asymptomatic testing continues, with an average of 10,000 tests a week. “To date, we have had a total of 19 positive cases. This is an absolutely remarkable statistic, and the envy of most of our peers,” he added. Yale’s combination of social distancing, testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine is proving to be effective. John encouraged the team to keep an eye on the COVID-19 website, which is being updated regularly with statistics and a methodology by which Yale is assessing its overall alert level. He encouraged everyone to remain vigilant, to maintain the positive health trend.

In terms of IT work, John mentioned that the organization has delivered most of the technology needed to successfully reopen and is at the stage of fine-tuning and closing gaps. “Hopefully, that is allowing some of you to catch your breath a little,” he reflected. 

The Operations Implementation Task Force is beginning to shift to clarifying Yale’s approach for closing out the fall semester and deciding on an approach for spring. No formal decisions have been made, but it seems likely that spring will closely mirror the approaches used this fall.

John expressed his thanks for the good work being done in support of the long-range plan, and for providing clarity to stakeholders about where future pressures lie.

IT Town Hall meetings will continue on a monthly basis moving forward, given the pace of changes at the university, but encouraged individuals to contact him with any concerns about this change.

The following questions, and John Barden’s answers, were taken from the September 25 virtual IT Town Hall meeting. This includes questions submitted via the Ask John survey.

Can you comment on the Financial Update email sent yesterday (September 24)?

If you haven’t seen or read through that note, I encourage you to do so. The short version is that there is both good and bad news. The overall financial results turned out a little bit better than we had anticipated, which is terrific.

The downside is that we have spent an incredible amount of money responding to COVID-19 and that continues at a significant clip. We also had a very significant downturn in several sources of revenue for an elongated period of time. It’s not as dismal as we expected it might be, nor is it as positive as original projections would have put forward. 

Another large factor is uncertainty. There is not a lot of clarity around how COVID-19 and this period of this history comes to a close. As a result of that, the financial and economic perspective is that we are continuing to be extraordinarily cautious about making new commitments and our rate of expenditure because we don’t know what the future holds. We will continue this programmatically until we have better clarity. 

If Yale is having financial issues, why were raises approved for staff making less than $85,000?

Yale wants to do the right thing, where possible. Although there is still a lot of financial pressure, the better-than-expected results gave us an opportunity to try to help those of us who essentially make the least. Hopefully, people see that gesture as an appropriate and positive thing.

Is the returning to campus timeline for staff who are currently working at home being rethought, and will that process of extending work from home in the spring be available?

The current guidance is that we will ask for a general return to work no earlier than January 4. I will stress the “no earlier than” language. We are likely to err on the side of being cautious here, and while I don’t have any formal guidance that pushes that date out further, I think that a general recall of staff is probably predicated more on health conditions. If I had to guess, I think we are likely to be in this situation through a good part of the spring. At the moment, the way in which we are stratifying who needs to be on campus and who doesn’t seems to be working pretty effectively. 

How is ITS going to run effectively amidst step-down retirement programs? 

The Senior Leadership Team and I recognize that it has been a hard run, and that a lot of you have been extraordinarily busy for a very long period of time. 

There are a lot of people who are taking advantage of the planned phased retirement program. This is terrific and a wonderful opportunity for some folks, who are at the stage of their career where that is an appropriate choice. We are continuing to have some turnover. At least every example that has come across my desk so far has been a great outcome.

Retirements do put pressure on us to continue to understand at what pace we can continue to hire under a situation where generally, the university is experiencing a hiring freeze. We have successfully been making some exceptions to that rule where there is extraordinary pressure. If you have specific areas that you are really getting stuck on and you need help, please raise your hand through your supervisory hierarchy. 

Can you share the numbers on phased retirement?

Roughly speaking, it includes almost 30 people, who have now entered into some discussion with us about phased retirement. It’s a significant number of individuals, including people who are already there and others who are now subscribing. It presents a pretty interesting challenge for us. 

Regarding the holiday party, are there any alternatives being considered, given that the party itself probably won’t happen?

Thank you for the reminder. We do need to think about how we are going to do that this year. We will start thinking of creative solutions for how we at least celebrate and acknowledge all of the great work of the last year.

John closed the meeting by thanking the team and stating that everyone is doing a terrific job. He reminded staff that we have been fortunate and that part of it is really about how everyone is doing with managing the commitments we have and building out all the tools to help this university succeed in this moment while managing your own health and your own ability to stay healthy and safe in this time.

Remember, you can submit time sensitive “Ask John” questions through the monthly 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 Friday, October 23, 2020.