We are writing to inform you of The University Seminars office response to the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
To date, the United States has not started widespread testing, so it is extremely difficult to assess the risk. From data on the approximately 100,000 confirmed cases so far, in the US and globally, we note that age is a significant risk factor, at least as regards the severity of the infection and the risk of death. Some of our members are older.
So, while the City and the US pursue more definite data, we are proposing that the University Seminars act with an abundance of caution and cancel in-person meetings for the next month. Columbia and other universities have issued a recommendation to avoid gatherings of over 25 people and communal food situations. DC has issued a travel ban for all government employees. The three of us are communicating with the Provost’s office and the Medical Center, and we are gathering what information is available from public sources. We are hoping that over the next month we will have a more definite basis to either extend or abate this closure. We will communicate with the Seminars community by April 6, at the latest, with a definite decision on the rest of the semester.
We note that many of our colleagues have been canceling in-person meetings and some have used teleconference facilities to continue collaborating. Columbia provides Zoom free of charge for this purpose. Zoom allows for discussion, text chat, and screen sharing. So you can have speakers present, show graphics, field text or verbal questions, and have group discussions. Our office will work with any chairs and rapporteurs interested in moving their meetings online to the best of our ability to make sure things go smoothly.
So, effective Monday, March 9:
1] All Seminar meetings should be canceled by their chairs and rapporteurs, with the explanation that they will be reconvened once this epidemic’s risk has receded. Please copy our office on these communications. Meetings held in the Faculty House will be canceled.
2] All dinners and lunches for Seminars will be canceled by our office, with the cooperation of Chairs and rapporteurs.
3] The Seminars office will remain open during regular office hours.
4] Rapporteurs will be paid what they had expected to earn this semester, based on the current schedule of meetings. Rapporteurs and chairs with questions about rapporteur pay should contact Gesenia Alvarez.
5] The annual dinner will be held, but it may need to be rescheduled. More on that after we navigate this unprecedented transition to life in an interesting time.
The University Seminars office is taking advice from Columbia University’s administration regarding possible effects of COVID-19 for our programming. For now, please see the University’s FAQs.