All of us are dealing with the troubles of our age—especially the crises provoked by COVID-19 and the killing of Mr. George Floyd—along many fronts: as leaders; as parents, grandparents, or friends; as caregivers, as community members, and as businesspeople.
The current situation is also uniquely personal for each of us. Perhaps you have been ill yourself. You may live in a city scorched by unrest. Perhaps your professional life has been derailed by forces you can’t control. The omnipresent phrase “social distancing” is sadly resonant for all of us; we are each being forced to cope with difficult events while unusually isolated. You may find it helpful to peruse the stories of how some of your fellow alumni, in various sectors and industries, are dealing with the upheaval of the pandemic in the “Leading through COVID” series on Yale Insights.
A business school education, ideally, trains the student to identify shifting market needs; to understand changes in the workplace and in operations and production; and to appreciate the global and societal implications of these changes. But we ask even more of Yale SOM graduates. We ask that they carry out their work with the special combination of knowledge and compassion that is the hallmark of this school. We need people throughout the world, in all kinds of organizations and in all facets of society, who have these skills. Whether the challenge is to reconcile public health needs with economic growth or to reform police departments, what we teach here will be essential to meaningful progress.
One of the most pressing challenges we face at Yale SOM—what keeps me up at night—is how to keep our distinctive spirit alive. As a graduate of the school, you understand that fulfilling our educational mission requires more than the mechanical connection of instructors and students or the bestowing of degrees. There is a magic to a Yale SOM education that emerges both from the quality of our instruction and from the school’s culture, or the many intangibles that arise from collaborative pursuit of a shared mission. Even in this time, we must ensure that students and faculty can connect around issues of shared interest; that our students receive career support, mentorship, and guidance that acknowledges their full selves; that our community can come together for shared recognition of milestones and events and the unique spirit that we share.
We dearly hope that we will be able to gather in person for the fall semester, but we do not yet know if that will be possible, or what sorts of limitations, such as reduced capacity for large events, will alter the pattern of the school year. So we are planning for both the best-case and the worst-case scenarios, as well as numerous gradations in between. Our experience in the spring term, when both faculty and students responded in extraordinary fashion to a sudden and severe disruption, gives reason for optimism. Our faculty not only adapted quickly to online teaching, but conscientiously applied themselves to making the online experience fruitful and fulfilling. Our students took initiative to help others and to help each other through the crisis.
Our faculty are devoting remarkable effort this summer to understanding how to teach most effectively in online and hybrid formats. This includes creating new teaching materials, surveying students to get feedback on online formats, and experimenting with hybrid approaches. Our staff remain the most committed group of people I have ever worked with; their efforts undergird everything we do.
Our alumni community is also a major part of this effort. Your engagement in helping students find internships and full-time positions is invaluable. Your example as leaders is incomparable. Your support of the school, along every dimension, is more important now than ever before.
Thank you for all you are doing.
Kerwin K. Charles