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FAS Dean Gay ‘Pretty Confident’ In-Person Classes Will Continue

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Faculty of the Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay said she “could not be more pleased” about the Covid-19 positivity rate on campus during an interview last week.

Gay said in the Thursday interview that administrators and faculty are optimistic that the FAS will be able to continue holding in-person classes for the foreseeable future.

“We’re all feeling pretty confident about our ability to maintain the in-person teaching and learning experience that we all value so much and that we’ve all worked so hard to recapture,” Gay said.

The state of the coronavirus pandemic throughout the country, though, continues to cause concern. The spread of the highly-contagious Delta variant, beginning last summer, caused Harvard to temper its confidence surrounding the return to campus.

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“Going well into June, there was a tremendous — and I think broadly shared — sense of optimism about the very near-term future, the sense that we were on our way to the other side of this pandemic,” Gay said. “That shifted over the course of the summer, as the Delta variant surged through the country and across the world.”

Referencing remarks made by University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 during a monthly faculty meeting earlier last week, Gay said she feels relief that the Covid-19 case count on campus has dropped.

“I believe it was Provost Garber who mentioned some ‘nail-biting moments’ in the early days of the semester when there was a rise in cases,” Gay said. “It is a relief that conditions have stabilized.”

The University has recorded 20 new positive cases over the past week, marking a 0.06 percent positivity rate on campus. The seven-day positivity rate has remained under 0.2 percent the entire semester.

Gay also discussed FAS contingency planning in the case of a graduate student union strike. Last month, members of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers voted to authorize a strike after nearly half a year of contract negotiations with the administration.

Gay said the Office of Undergraduate Education has provided faculty with a “detailed checklist of things they can be doing now” to prepare for a graduate student strike. She acknowledged, however, that the pandemic has further complicated contingency planning for faculty.

“​​I offer all of this recognizing that we’re asking the faculty to take on a lot, including contingency planning, at a particularly difficult time,” Gay said.

In the case of a strike, Gay reiterated that faculty will be held responsible for maintaining all course meetings, including lectures and discussion sections, as well as grading.

“I’m deeply grateful to our faculty for their continued commitment to enabling academic continuity for our students, as well as scholarship in what are new and very challenging circumstances,” Gay added.

Also during the interview, Gay hailed the new Allston Science and Engineering Complex, which welcomed students for the first time this semester, as “remarkable.”

“It’s really exciting to see the SEC building fully open and operational,” Gay said. “I saw it at different stages of development and still nothing could prepare me for the energy of that building when it is fully inhabited and fully activated.”

Gay said that her favorite part of seeing a revitalized campus is the “serendipitous encounters” that she has with colleagues.

“On most days when the weather is good, I eat my lunch just sitting outside on the steps of University Hall,” Gay said. “And I’m using that as a chance to see people that I haven’t seen for a long time.”

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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