Message from the Dean: Identifying tasks, allocating resources, establishing accountability

April 27, 2020 | Dean's Corner

Message from the Dean:

Dear CUNY SPH Community,

This week I will address the third and most essential component in responding to an emergency and mounting a successful response: identifying tasks, allocating resources, and establishing accountability.

As the epidemic unfolded within our community in the midst of the spring semester, we quickly learned we were battling a dangerous and highly contagious agent, challenging us to protect the integrity of our team of faculty and staff and the students we serve. Business as usual was not an option, and our early attempt to cancel public gatherings of more than 50 was clearly insufficient. The decision to move all non-essential functions off campus required planning and clear communications.

Maintaining a high-quality instructional program was our priority, a task for which we were not unprepared. CUNY SPH’s faculty and students had already taken advantage of remote learning technologies prior to this epidemic. Our task was to train faculty who had not used this modality before, monitor our students’ ability to adapt and to succeed, and ensure that all had access to the technological resources needed to optimize the distance learning experience. Midterm student surveys showed relative success, and problem areas identified by students were addressed. We are accountable in that way both to the students and to the faculty, understanding their experiences and responding to the best of our ability to their needs.

We took immediate steps to ensure that research operations were not interrupted, working with Principal Investigators to ensure that they had the resources to keep active studies moving forward, and to continue submitting new grant applications. Strong evidence of our success is the stability of research expenditures this quarter and the number of grant applications submitted or near submission. CUNY SPH allocated its own resources to select and fund the best research ideas presented by our faculty to address important aspects of the epidemic. The school also launched and funded a weekly survey of New Yorkers to monitor perceptions, impacts and effects of the epidemic on their health and their lives. As a public school of public health during an epidemic we are accountable to the top health priorities in our city. This ongoing survey has generated data and important insights that will inform the responses to the epidemic in the city’s most vulnerable communities.

We are also accountable for maintaining the highest caliber of faculty to create and teach the most innovative and rigorous educational programs possible. When the pandemic struck, we were actively recruiting for four faculty positions in various departments. We were able to switch midstream to virtual recruitment mode to ensure the safety of candidates and those evaluating them. I am very happy to report that we have already completed two of these searches successfully, with excellent candidates choosing to join us; a third search is being finalized.

It was clear from the outset that our students’ lives and their mental health needs would require our special attention and additional resources. In response, we dedicated town hall meetings to inform the students of new grading policies and other accommodations offered by the university and the school and are holding virtual resilience sessions addressing students’ mental health challenges and how best to manage them.

We swiftly launched a comprehensive COVID-19 Update page to provide timely and essential news and resources to the CUNY SPH community. And to offer our students and community expert, in-depth analysis of the evolving public health crisis, we convened a Dean’s Virtual COVID-19 Grand Rounds series, where international thought leaders have been sharing their insights.

I cannot underplay the importance of the day-to-day essential functions that keep this school going. Financial Aid, Human Resources, Purchasing, Public Safety, and other necessary services did not miss a beat, working remotely in teams and individually to keep this engine going. For those essential workers who have continued to come to campus, our sincere gratitude and admiration for your dedication.

Last but by no means least, intensive fundraising efforts led by the CUNY SPH Foundation are ongoing to make sure that our student emergency fund is able to meet our students’ needs as they arise and to help mitigate the impact of the epidemic on their ability to succeed.

It is no less than a miracle that this ship is sailing on course and on schedule. We are accountable to each other in many ways but more than anything, we are accountable to the vision we have for the future of our students and the quality of education that we provide them. Thanks to the resilience of every member of our community, we will emerge whole and successful, and at the end of this experience, I know we will be stronger and more confident in who we are and what we stand for.

Ayman El-Mohandes