A wave of Covid-19 in early September led to “biting” moments for administrators, but Harvard dodged “severe” cases of Covid-19 among students vaccinated this semester, university officials said at the time. of a faculty meeting on Tuesday.
In May, administrators announced Harvard would revert to “normal housing density” and full in-person education in the fall. At the same time, the University has mandated Covid-19 vaccinations to return to campus housing, unless there is medical or religious exemption.
Nonetheless, university rector Alan M. Garber ’76 said university health officials had “thrown a few balls” in planning for a safe return for students, such as the Delta variant and its effects on unvaccinated students.
â€œIf you asked me what my biggest concern was, ‘Could we prevent an epidemic that might force us to close campus?’ Garber said. “There have been some tough times, especially around Labor Day.”
Currently, 96 percent of university employees and 95 percent of students are vaccinated, while the seven-day positivity rate has remained below 0.2 percent throughout the semester, said Giang T. Nguyen, director. from Harvard University Health Services. No vaccinated student who contracted the virus needed to use an intensive care unit or ventilator this semester.
Despite the drop in the number of cases in recent weeks, Nguyen said Harvard officials are not “ready to say that we are yet ready to get back to normal.”
Garber said that “no single factor” will determine when Harvard operations can return to normal, including more travel and conferences. Although experts predict that the virus will eventually become endemic like the flu, Harvard will have to consider when the â€œsevere long-term Covid rate is low enoughâ€ to fully reopen, he said.
“I’m not ready to say we’re going to be [back to normal] by January, but I don’t think that’s unrealistic, â€Garber said.
The University is also considering that some affiliates are now eligible for a Covid-19 booster dose, he said, noting that preliminary research has found that “coverage against the new variants is extremely good” for those who are receiving booster shots.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Garber also provided an update on negotiations with the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers. Last week, around 92% of HGSU-UAW members voted to authorize a strike after nearly six months of contract negotiations with the administration.
On economic issues, the biggest disagreement lies in â€œdirect pay and salaryâ€.
â€œA gap definitely remains, but the University has offered $ 14 million in new economic concessions over the next three years,â€ Garber said.
Garber said the two sides were “distant” on non-economic issues, including union security, third-party arbitration for academic retaliation and “the wide range of issues relating to non-discrimination, harassment and intimidation”.
Garber said previous negotiations with the HGSU-UAW had led schools to develop “policies and procedures for accusing students of academic retaliation.” He said, however, that the administration opposes the union’s requests for third-party arbitration in these cases, arguing that the arbitrators are “not in a position” to determine whether the faculty’s actions are appropriate.
The Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Claudine Gay, has shared tentative plans in case the union goes on strike. She stressed that professors are “responsible for maintaining the continuity of courses, sections and assessment”.
“If it happens that a strike starts, the first thing to do is to leave [students] know what to do and what to expect. If your building is staked, we are prepared to make exceptions to move the class to Zoom, â€Gay said. â€œYou should think about how to manage the sections, for example adapting the assignments because you have less staff. “
Gay said that while the return to in-person teaching could be “a lot to process” or “exhausting” for teachers, she said it was a “hard-earned moment” worth celebrating.
â€œThe classrooms are activated. The courtyard is buzzing. The students are so grateful to finally be together again. And the energy here is palpable, â€she added.