Planning for Research Ramp-up

May 11, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I write to report that the University has adopted the attached Framework for Restarting Research, created by the Laboratory Research Working Group that is part of the planning effort President Bollinger asked me to organize. Meeting frequently, our working groups on public health, education, facilities and campus life, and laboratory research have begun to provide guidance on how best to carefully restore density to on-site activities.

At the recommendation of the lab research team, we are starting active planning to expeditiously resume as many research operations as possible. So doing, safety and health considerations will take precedence. As many activities will need to be modified to ensure physical distancing and meet other public health requirements, we cannot simply return to ante-virus procedures and practices. Indeed, for now, all research that can be performed remotely should continue on that basis.

You will soon be receiving a communication from your dean regarding your school’s planning process. This planning will take place within the Framework for Restarting Research described in the attached document.

To aid in the planning process, the Laboratory Research Work Group has created tools that schools may use or customize as needed, including a principal investigator checklist covering issues such as prioritization, shifts, and occupancy, for PIs to consider in their planning, and a school checklist, covering issues such as core facilities, equipment, HVAC, etc. These materials are available via the Office of the Provost website.

One size does not fit all. In particular, please note that researchers at CUIMC should wait for the relevant parallel documents from the schools in Washington Heights, in light of their distinct circumstances.

The Framework communicates principles and considerations to assist schools and researchers as they plan. Some Columbia on-site research efforts (including research on COVID-19) have continued to operate without interruption through the ramp-down period. Our present goal is to begin to bring the rest back as soon as our public health experts tell us it is safe to proceed. We do not yet know the precise restart date, which could be as early as the beginning of June.

Each school will determine the order of priority and its own strategy for how best to restart on-site research, taking account of its particular portfolio, physical plant, and any distinct needs of the community of researchers. As specified in the Framework, the initial phase of return allows up to a maximum of one-third of normal occupancy at any point in time, and advises using that capacity as efficiently as feasible by staggering work hours, working in shifts, and the like. Of course, all the parameters specified in the Framework are subject to revision in response to public health requirements.

As research-specific planning moves forward, the University will continue to address health and safety concerns at the broadest level. This orientation and commitment includes ensuring appropriate hygiene plans for common areas; offices and laboratories in buildings that may be reopening; centralized ordering of face coverings and personal protective equipment; training materials and resources; and other steps in accord with the requirements and recommendations of federal, state, and local agencies and officials.

As we move forward through planning to implementation and assessment, I am very pleased to report that Robert Mawhinney, Dean of Science in Arts and Sciences, will be joining Rui Costa, Shi-Fu Chang, Arthur Lerner-Lam, Gerald Rosberg, Naomi Schrag, Michael Shelanksi, and Jeannette Wing as a member of the working group.

Vibrant lab research and activity are fundamental at Columbia. We are all eager to restore on-site work as soon as we reasonably can, consistent with health and public safety requirements. I wish to send my warm appreciation for your patience during this unprecedented emergency, and for all that so many of you are doing to maintain the strength and vitality of our research activities. This vibrancy matters more than ever to the University and the world.

With best wishes,

Ira Katznelson
Interim Provost
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History