Past Messages from Dean Heather Gerken
To the Class of 2020:
Today is a day that should be marked by sunshine and celebration. You should be surrounded by loved ones and admirers. We should all be wearing caps and gowns, and the faculty and staff should be with you to bear witness to this remarkable milestone in your careers.
That day is still ahead of us. But we did not want to lose this opportunity to celebrate your achievements, to wish you well, and to share a few, small tokens of our gratitude for the time you spent with us here in New Haven. Every one of you will receive an email today from one of your fans here at the Law School. I also hope you and your families will drop by individual faculty members’ Zoom “offices” today as part of our Virtual Courtyard Celebration so that they can wish you well. Finally, please enjoy our video tribute to your class and feel free to share it with family and friends.
Had today allowed for a typical Commencement ceremony, I would have stood up on a stage on Old Campus and told President Salovey that the Yale Law School Class of 2020 includes 204 JD candidates, 23 LLM candidates, one JSD candidate, and one MSL candidate. Today we don’t just mark the achievements that undergird the conferral of those degrees, but marvel at the 229 eclectic, intelligent, and hardworking individuals who have brought so much energy and excitement into our classes, our clinics, and our community.
We will never forget the Class of 2020. You embody the excellence and decency we seek from all of our students, and you dealt with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic with resilience, generosity, and grace. This community will always stand behind you, and we wish you joy today.
You do us proud.
Heather K. Gerken
May 13, 2020 — A Message from Dean Gerken on Fall Term Planning
Dear Members of the Law School Community,
Today we join the University in assuring our community that Yale Law School will start on time this fall. Although it’s impossible to know exactly how the semester will unfold, we will do everything we can to maximize opportunities for in-person learning while keeping our community safe. Over the last few weeks, my administration has been working hard to plan for a variety of scenarios that we may encounter next semester. As we move forward, we will rely on guidance from the University and public health officials before making a determination about whether we can hold in-person classes in the fall or if we will start the semester using online learning. We are grateful to the University for undertaking extraordinary efforts to put in place the public-health protections necessary to begin a phased reopening of the campus.
We have also made several important adjustments to our upcoming academic calendar, including starting earlier, ending classes before Thanksgiving, and removing the Labor Day holiday and October Recess. We made these changes with safety in mind, as it will minimize the number of times that students may need to travel to and from campus. As a result, Yale Law School classes will begin on August 24, whether in-person or online. We are awaiting further guidance from the University about when students will need to arrive back in New Haven in order to comply with potential testing protocols and/or self-quarantining requirements that would enable us to begin the semester in person if public-health conditions permit. Due to the uncertainties that surround the arrival process in August, we plan for orientation activities to take place online throughout the month of August. The University will make an announcement with specific plans for the fall semester by early July.
As the University works to reopen over the summer as outlined in Provost Scott Strobel’s email earlier today, all faculty, students, and staff must remain off the Law School campus for now. If faculty need to return to campus to retrieve items over the summer break, you must receive approval from the Dean. Staff members must receive approval from their managers and alert Joe Crosby as well as Building Services. Students seeking to retrieve personal items from the Law School should contact Building Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1-203-432-4980. Please include the purpose of the visit, date and time you would prefer to enter the building, and expected duration of the visit. We appreciate your cooperation as we work to keep our community safe this summer.
Fortunately, the Law School is well-situated to maximize opportunities for in-person learning next year if conditions permit. Our students — including those in Baker Hall — live in apartments rather than conventional dorms. Our classes are quite small, which means it is easier to find the space to meet even with social-distancing rules in place. Because our students reside in New Haven, we can begin in-person learning as soon as it is possible to do so, even when other parts of the campus may find it necessary to wait. And thanks to our wonderful IT staff and buildings team, we will be able to accommodate the needs of international students, who may not be able to make it to campus on time, as well as students whose health needs require them to remain away from campus.
While creating opportunities for in-person learning is our ultimate goal, given the many uncertainties that we face, we will also be prepared to provide online educational opportunities that meet our standard of excellence. In March, we converted a centuries-old teaching tradition into an online format in just under two weeks. I was inspired to witness what the staff and faculty were able to do in such a short period. We have learned a great deal since then, and there is certainly more to learn. Much of the summer will be devoted to sharing information, surfacing best practices, and reimagining the classroom. We will focus not only on our intellectual life, but on our communal one, and do everything we can to create the virtual space we need to carry on our best traditions. Should public health protocols require continued distance learning, we will be better prepared for online teaching, more thoughtful about our pedagogy, and ready to innovate.
I know that the next few months will not be easy, yet I remain optimistic that brighter days are ahead and that we can achieve some sense of normalcy this fall. I look forward to welcoming all of you in August, including our wonderful new 1L class. We will send further updates and guidance on our planning for the fall as soon as we are able. In the meantime, please take care of yourselves and your community.
Heather K. Gerken
April 17, 2020 — A Message from Dean Gerken on COVID-19 and the Strength of Our Community
Dear Members of the Law School Community,
It’s been nearly a month since we made the switch to online classes. In this short span of time, our almost 200-year-old institution adapted to a completely new way of teaching, learning, and working while the world around us changed dramatically. Nothing about this has been easy. Yet as hard as things have been in recent weeks, I take enormous pride in how our community has met this unparalleled challenge.
Our faculty have done whatever they can to maintain the magic of the classroom. Harold Koh’s students have spoken with a barrister from London, a human rights expert from Strasbourg, and a deputy EU general counsel from Brussels. The Environmental Protection Clinic recently took a Zoom field trip to the Natural Resources Defense Council, meeting with the agency’s COVID-19 Task Force for an inside view on how it is navigating this crisis. Oona Hathaway is arranging Zoom panels on clerkships with alumni from all around the country. They’ve done this while continuing to innovate and lead, emerging as central players in the debates over public health, economic change, and the need for equity and justice during this difficult time.
Despite tremendous obstacles, our clinics have been waging valiant battles on behalf of prisoners, immigrants, and veterans at risk. Scattered across time zones, students and faculty are filing lawsuits, meeting with clients, and arguing before courts remotely in order to protect those in need.
Our students continue to engage deeply with ideas inside of class while pursuing important work through clinics, centers, and their own independent initiatives. They are writing op-eds, crafting letters to governors, and figuring out innovative ways to help those in need. They’ve done all of this while dealing with substantial stresses in their own lives. I’ve been deeply moved by the everyday kindnesses and deep devotion our students have shown to one another and to their communities.
None of this would be possible without our wonderful staff, who have been working day and night to protect members of our community, attend to the pressing needs, and ensure that this institution carries forward its mission. Ours is — as it has always been — a collective effort.
I know there is a great deal of uncertainty around what the future holds and how this crisis will impact the Law School in the months to come. We are working diligently to develop plans to ensure that we hew to our mission and hold this community together. Please continue to visit the Law School's emergency webpage and Yale's COVID-19 website for the latest updates as the semester continues.
This has been an exhausting and deeply unsettling time for everyone, and my heart goes out to all of you as you deal with the unique challenges posed by this crisis. I draw strength from this community, and I know you do as well.
Stay safe, and take care of yourself and one another.
Heather K. Gerken
March 27, 2020 — A COVID-19 Update from Dean Gerken
Dear Members of the Law School Community,
We have completed our first week of online classes, and I am enormously grateful to our faculty, students, and staff for making it as seamless as possible given the circumstances. Thank you for your continued patience as we all get used to our virtual classrooms.
I know it’s been a long week, and a lot has come across the transom. I thought it would be helpful to recap a few important announcements and to provide you with further details about what we are doing to support our students.
- On Monday, the University announced that May's Commencement ceremonies will not be held due to the public health and safety restrictions from COVID-19. In the coming weeks we will provide more information on our plans to celebrate our wonderful graduates.
- This week the faculty voted to adopt a mandatory credit/fail system for the spring semester. As I said in my message to the students announcing this new policy, this is the beginning of our efforts to help students in need, not the end.
- Everyone in our community should refrain from entering the Law School buildings unless you are deemed critical staff or your visit is absolutely necessary and your manager or the dean has approved the visit. This policy is essential to minimize the spread on campus and protect our community. Please treat this request with enormous seriousness and continue to check the Law School’s COVID-19 emergency page and the University’s website for the latest information.
Finally, I wanted to update you on the steps we have taken to help our students manage the many challenges they face right now. From the moment that COVID-19 began to impact our community, our senior staff broke into teams to focus on students in need. We have been working to move students to safer quarters, helping overseas students get home, ensuring a place to stay for those with nowhere else to go, recalculating student aid packages to help those with critical financial needs, modifying academic requirements, and finding solutions to help students with bar examinations and future employment. Our dedicated student affairs team has been working around the clock to provide guidance to our students and has posted the most common questions and answers online. I am particularly pleased that Catherine Khang Banson, our wellness counselor, has just joined the Student Affairs Office to provide additional support.
None of this would be possible without the dedication of our faculty and staff. They are all dealing with many obstacles in their own lives, and yet they are doing all they can to help our students through this ordeal. As Dean, you have my promise that the Law School will do everything in our power to provide our students the support they need to navigate this difficult time.
This is not the first challenge we have faced as a School, and it will not be the last. As exhausting as the last few weeks have been, I take solace from watching this community come together to care for one another while pushing forward the solutions this moment demands. Though the news can be overwhelming, take note of all the inspiring examples of grace, selflessness, and determination out there, both within our community and around the world. Stay safe and please continue to keep in touch.
Heather K. Gerken
March 25, 2020 — An Important Message from Dean Gerken on Commencement Changes
Dear Members of the Law School Community,
I am writing with difficult news. As you saw from President Salovey’s announcement just now, the University is canceling May’s commencement in order to adhere to public health and safety guidelines, which make it clear that we must refrain from large gatherings of people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the coming weeks we will provide more information on our plans to properly celebrate our wonderful graduates. We ask for your patience as we work to determine the best ways to do this.
This decision is heartbreaking. One of the most joyous moments of the year is watching our students walk across the stage and set off to their futures. The faculty and I love meeting your families, witnessing their pride in you, and gathering as a community to send you off into the world to shine.
Please know that all of the faculty and staff share your sadness over this decision. However, we all understand that at a moment like this, what matters more than anything else is that we keep ourselves and our families safe.
In this challenging time, I know we will continue to rally as a community. Though we may be separated right now, we will find a way to come together in some fashion and celebrate the graduates of 2020.
Heather K. Gerken
March 20, 2020 — A Message from Dean Gerken: COVID-19 Update and the Start of Online Classes
Dear Members of the Law School Community,
It’s been quite a week. I wanted to start by thanking all of you for your patience, your persistence, and your grace in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its many costs. As trying and difficult as this period has been, the way everyone has come together is a reminder of what a remarkable community we inhabit (albeit virtually these days).
As we all adapt to life under a very new reality, I wanted to reach out in advance of the launch of online classes starting this Monday. The Law School staff has been hard at work transitioning all classes online, providing training to our faculty, and setting up test classrooms for faculty and students. All faculty and students have received a detailed email from ITS with instructions and other important information. Please visit our Academic Continuity page for resources about teaching and learning online.
The road to online teaching and learning will be a bumpy one. We will all need to be patient and flexible as we inevitably encounter unforeseen challenges and work to adjust to virtual classrooms. I know our remarkable faculty will step up to this challenge with the same passion and innovative spirit that they approach all of their work. Likewise, I know our incredible students will do all they can to bring the same creativity and thoughtfulness to online classes. We owe an enormous debt to our staff, who have worked day and night to make a herculean change during an unprecedented situation.
While it has certainly been a tough week, I’m buoyed by the resilience of this community. Students have started email chains on how to support each other and the New Haven community. Faculty have been learning a completely new way of teaching, all the while providing critical expertise on the pressing topics of the day, serving their clients, and helping their communities. And our staff has been working nonstop to care for our students and keep the school running under exceptionally difficult circumstances. This has always been a community marked by its graciousness and decency, but never more so than during the last few weeks.
As always, please continue to check both the Law School’s COVID-19 website and the University’s website for the latest information and resources. Students will also shortly be receiving an email from Dean Cosgrove with updates on a variety of topics, including grading and student support.
Despite the obstacles that we face at this extraordinary moment, I am confident that we will get through this together as a community. Please continue to take care of yourself and those around you.
Heather K. Gerken
March 15, 2020 — COVID-19 Updates: Online Teaching Extended Through End of Term; All Events Canceled
Dear Members of the Community,
I know that it has been a stressful period, and I’m sorry to send yet another email this weekend. The situation is changing quickly, and I wanted to be sure to keep you up to date.
Consistent with the University’s guidelines issued on March 14, all Law School class sessions are moving online and will take place remotely in real time starting on March 23 through the end of the spring semester. Classes will be automatically recorded and made available to enrolled students who cannot join a class at its scheduled time for health or logistical reasons. Our IT department has posted a webpage about online learning and working remotely and will be providing additional training this week to faculty and staff. Please use this extra break week to familiarize yourself with these procedures. There will undoubtedly be challenges to moving our teaching and learning entirely online within the next week, and it will require us all to be patient and to help one another as we make these significant changes.
In addition, the Law School is canceling all in-person events and conferences — even those confined to members of our community — through the end of the academic year. The University will continue to keep us updated on the status of Commencement. Please visit this University Commencement webpage for further information as it becomes available.
We take seriously the President’s forceful message that students in the graduate and professional schools should remain off campus — and away from graduate housing — if at all possible. But we also understand the challenges that some of you face because you have nowhere else to go. If your current plan is to return to graduate housing, it is imperative that you reach out to us by contacting email@example.com; we will do whatever we can to help you. In the meantime, all students should fill out the survey circulated last week, to help us stay in touch.
Faculty and staff should also remain off campus unless it is absolutely necessary to be in the building. All public spaces on the first floor of Baker Hall and within Sterling Law Building are currently closed and both buildings are accessible only to members of the Law School community via keytag. If you must be in either building, it is imperative that you engage in social distancing.
As I said earlier, our highest priority right now is ensuring the health and safety of our community. We understand the deep disappointment these measures bring, and we share in it. But please know we are working very hard to also ensure academic continuity as well as we can, given these extraordinary circumstances.
We also anticipate that this announcement will raise further questions for our community. We are working with the University to get clarity on several issues, while we pull together resources to address issues and concerns raised within our own community. Students should visit the FAQs for Students for answers to specific questions. If your question is not answered there, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also continue to stay connected for further updates by visiting the Law School’s emergency webpage and Yale’s COVID-19 website.
I know none of us has yet had a chance to reflect on the fact that the semester will end this way. We will all miss being together in our classes and clinics, attending the wonderful workshops and events we had planned, and the daily grace notes that come from living and learning in the same space as a community of faculty, staff, and students. My heart especially goes out to our graduating students, as spring has always been the time to relish the last bit of time they’ll have together. None of this is easy, and I appreciate the grace and fortitude you’ve all shown as we deal with this pandemic.
I will continue to send updates as we receive further guidance and information on this ever-changing situation. In the meantime, please continue to take care of yourselves and your loved ones.
Heather K. Gerken
March 14, 2020 — COVID-19 Updates: Confirmed COVID-19 Case on Yale Campus; Baker Hall Update
Dear Members of the Law School Community:
The University just announced that a member of the Yale community has tested positive for COVID-19 on a preliminary test and they are awaiting confirmation. Please read the email from Dr. Paul Genecin for the detailed update, particularly his advice on the steps you should take to monitor your own health. We are working closely with University officials as we monitor the ongoing situation. All the latest messaging and resources are available on the University’s COVID-19 website.
In addition, the Law School informed residents of Baker Hall this morning that a resident who recently returned from overseas learned after their arrival back in New Haven that they had limited exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The resident is not exhibiting symptoms and has been evaluated by Yale Health. Out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with public health guidelines, the student is self-quarantining in their Baker Hall residence. We are in close contact with the student and working to provide assistance. The Law School is also working closely with the University, public health officials, and Graduate Housing to ensure all CDC protocols are being followed. The health and safety of every resident and that of every member of our community is our top priority.
As you know, the University made the decision to keep graduate residential dormitories open during this time, but students should remain off campus unless they have no other alternatives. Anyone who is returning back to campus after traveling to a designated Level 3 country or who believes they may have been exposed to the virus must follow the CDC reporting and self- quarantine recommendations.
For staff and faculty, unless it is absolutely necessary to be in the building, we also recommend that you stay off campus. Please note that all public spaces on the first floor of Baker Hall and within Sterling Law Building are currently closed and both buildings are only accessible to the Law School community via key tag. If you must be in either building, it is imperative that you engage in social distancing.
Anyone in the Yale community, including non-members of Yale Health, can call the Yale Health COVID-19 Hotline at 203-432-6604 to seek more information about symptoms or preventive measures. We strongly advise that you contact Yale Health if you have been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient. Please reference the University email and the COVID-19 website for important information about monitoring your health and the steps to take if you feel sick.
I know this is an unsettling time for everyone, and we will continue to work diligently to keep every member of this community safe and informed. Despite the challenges that we face at this time, I am heartened by the way this community is working together to navigate this evolving situation.
Heather K. Gerken
March 13, 2020 — COVID-19 Updates: Public Spaces and Library Closing, Staffing Updates
To the Members of the Law School Community,
I hope you are safe and able to care for yourself and your loved ones. We are all working very hard to adapt to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation. I know how challenging this situation is for all of you. We are working closely with the University as it guides the campus through a situation that is evolving by the hour. The Law School administration is doing its best to keep students, faculty, and staff safe and informed, and we will provide answers to your questions as quickly as we can.
As you saw from the email sent out yesterday from Paul Genecin and Donald Filer, Yale continues to take new actions to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19. We want to be as proactive as possible to safeguard your health and the health of those around you. For this reason, we are taking the following steps:
- All public spaces in the Sterling Law Building and Baker Hall, including lounges, classrooms, and the Dining Hall, are closed effective immediately. Students should remain off-campus at this time. Anyone who must be inside Sterling or Baker should practice social distancing, per the University’s guidelines.
- Baker Hall residential suites remain open at this time. As President Salovey’s email made clear, Graduate Housing intends to keep the graduate dorms open. We are working closely with the University and public health officials to ensure the health and safety of every resident.
- As of 10pm tonight, the Law Library will restrict access to library staff only. Students and faculty will not be able to enter the library. The library will be sending follow up information shortly.
- ITS has posted a page about online learning and working remotely.
- While the Dining Hall is closed, its staff are graciously assisting with cleaning responsibilities in the Sterling Law Building and is making additional sanitizing supplies available for the building. We are grateful for their help in keeping everyone safe and healthy.
- Starting Monday, most Yale Law School staff will be working remotely from home. Staff who do come into the building will be practicing social distancing per public health guidelines. While staff will do their best to respond in a timely fashion, be mindful of the fact that this is a challenging situation for the entire community and that many staff have children at home due to the closing of local schools. I hope you will all take time to thank the staff with whom you work, especially the ITS staff working around the clock to move classes online.
- Visiting faculty, lecturers, and any guests to a class who are not local to the New Haven area should remain off campus and teach remotely.
I will continue to write with updates when we have new information to communicate. In the meantime, please continue to check the website and your email. Right now, our most urgent priority is ensuring the health and safety of our community. Please take care of yourselves and those you love.
Heather K. Gerken
March 10, 2020 —COVID-19 Update: Spring Break Extended; Classes Moving Online; Events Canceled
A Message to Members of the Law School Community from Dean Heather K. Gerken:
I know this has been a very difficult and uncertain time for all of you. The Law School has been working around the clock to ensure the health and safety of our community, and we have been collaborating with the University and its public health experts as the situation unfolds.
As we just learned, the University has decided to move all classes online until April 5 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In light of this decision, the Law School is extending its spring recess by one week until March 20 to align with the undergraduate spring recess. Our academic calendar has been updated to reflect this change. Read more information on teaching, learning, and working remotely.
Consistent with the University’s guidelines, all Law School class sessions will move online and take place remotely in real time starting on March 23rd. They will be automatically recorded and made available to enrolled students who cannot join a class at its scheduled time for health or logistical reasons. We will provide further information regarding online instruction as soon as we are able to do so.
The Sterling Law Building and the Law Library will remain open solely to members of the University community. Baker Hall will also remain open to residents and staff. The University has encouraged all graduate and professional students to remain off-campus and participate in online instruction. We recognize that some members of our community cannot easily make this change. For that reason, we will keep Baker Hall open for those students who do not have a suitable alternative. We are working closely with Graduate Housing to ensure that every student remains safe and healthy during their residency. Residents with questions about access to graduate housing should contact email@example.com.
In keeping with our effort to keep all the members of our community safe and healthy, the Law School is canceling all in-person events, even those confined to members of our community, until April 5. We are also canceling conferences until the end of the academic year. We would strongly advise you to consider rescheduling any other events slated for later in the term, as it is possible we may need to cancel these as well. The situation is changing quickly, and we expect additional guidance from the University in the coming days.
While there are no known cases of COVID-19 at the University at this time, out of an abundance of caution we are taking these steps to protect our community. It is important to stay connected for further updates about this rapidly evolving situation by checking your email and visiting Yale’s COVID-19 website. In the meantime, we have compiled a list of important reminders and procedures to follow at the end of this email.
Please know that we are with you during this difficult period. The situation is changing quickly, and we are paying close attention to the public health experts advising the University. We know there will be many additional questions as we work through this developing situation. We will provide additional information tailored to faculty, students, and staff as soon as we receive further guidance from the University. It is my top priority to ensure the health and safety of our community. Thank you for your patience and flexibility during this unprecedented and challenging time.
Heather K. Gerken
PREVENTION: Please continue to take personal precautions and practice good hygiene. Our custodial team has stepped up disinfection protocols in frequently used areas and on commonly touched surfaces in all facilities in partnership with Environmental Health & Safety. Additional staff is being trained and deployed to assist with these efforts.
TRAVEL: The University is prohibiting all international travel and is strongly encouraging us to postpone all school-sponsored domestic travel. For those currently traveling on spring break, please heed all travel and safety advisories regarding self-quarantine and registration required by the CDC. Given that the situation is changing frequently, please regularly consult the travel and health section of the University’s webpage. Register ALL travel—including within the United States—and download the International SOS (ISOS) app. Stay alert to changes and developments and be ready to change your plans if conditions change.
HEALTH: If you should feel ill while traveling abroad, call ISOS (215-942-8478) for advice before going to a health care facility. ISOS medical staff can provide advice on how to get treatment but will not be able to get you out of a country if any government restrictions have been put in place. For those on campus, if you experience fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, stay home and contact a health care provider for guidance—do not go to a healthcare facility before you have called your doctor or a hospital emergency room for instructions. If you are a Yale student or Yale Health member, you should contact Internal Medicine (203-432-0038), Student Health (203-432-0312), or Pediatrics (203-432-0206) from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For urgent attention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, please call Yale Health Acute Care (203-432-0123).