COVID-19 and Urgent Research Tasks

March 15, 2020

Dear members of the Columbia research community:

As we all know, the University is scaling back as much as possible in response to the COVID-19 emergency to reduce the population on our campuses. This morning’s message from President Bollinger advances this necessary objective.  This document addresses key aspects of University life associated with research, one of our most central activities.

In present circumstances, it is imperative to develop and rapidly carry out a ramp-down strategy for most of our on-site, in-person research activities to enable researchers to move to as much remote work as possible. Because research differs from campus to campus, this crucial task requires the close cooperation of the leadership of our Schools and campuses in setting the parameters for which activities should be designated as essential for the continuation of research. You will be receiving more detailed plans from your School or campus leadership today or tomorrow on how the ramp-down should be implemented.

On the recommendation of a Research Working Group consisting of funded investigators, senior faculty, and administrators, the following directives will apply University-wide:

  • Each principal investigator or other responsible researcher must submit to the appropriate person in your unit a detailed plan for how activities on research projects and animal studies will be handled with the minimum possible number of personnel on campus. Only essential research will be permitted to continue and only personnel who are essential to conduct the permitted research and to maintain the equipment and other laboratory assets may remain on campus. Researchers whose work may be carried out remotely, e.g., some social science researchers, may need to provide only a simple submission, depending on the particular School or campus requirements.
  • The essential staff should be limited in general to 2-4 individuals (exceptions may be requested, depending, e.g., on the size of the group).
  • Each principal investigator or other responsible researcher should identify critical services or resources required for sustaining essential research functions during and after the ramp-down period.
  • Research should be assumed to continue on a ramped-down basis for the following 6-8 weeks. Because we are in a dynamic situation, the time period will be reviewed regularly.
  • Development and implementation of ramp-down plans are mandatory and exceptions will be made only after approval by the applicable Chairs and Deans and any other required reviewers. Each School will establish a review mechanism to ensure that only essential research is continuing.
  • The plans must be submitted as soon as possible and the ramp-down should be completed no later than Thursday, March 19. 

The ramp-down directive may be waived, with the approval of the applicable Chairs and Deans, for exceptional cases involving critical research relating to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

No new on-site or in-person research projects may be commenced unless they relate to the current COVID-19 pandemic and only with the approval of the applicable Chairs, Deans and any other required reviewers.

This is a reminder that the University has a robust administrative support system for researchers that will be available at all times to assist you in your planning and in taking the actions that are required to prepare your laboratory for a reduction in work and in the on-site availability of personnel.  In particular, the Institute for Comparative Medicine and Environmental Health & Safety stand ready to assist in any way. The other Offices of the Executive Vice President for Research are also available for questions and assistance.

We understand that your research is critical to the mission of the University and that it will be difficult for many researchers to consider that their research should not be pursued as fully as possible. We would like to remind you that while laboratory work may be slowed down, your time can be spent on productive alternatives, such as analyzing data, writing and reviewing articles, organizing online research meeting or journal clubs, writing grant proposals, and establishing collaborations across campuses to start new projects once the ramp-down is lifted. Principal investigators and responsible researchers should devote time to helping students and postdoctoral fellows remain engaged in productive research activities at home. Indeed, it is important to emphasize the ramp-down applies to on-site and in-person research. Investigators and trainees should strive to advance the overall goals of their research projects via remote activities.

Needless to say, we will be working with our local and national public health officials to do what is needed to help slow the outbreak and protect our colleagues and the community.  We very much appreciate your joining us as partners in this shared goal.


Ira Katznelson
Interim Provost
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History