Community Conversations: A Vaccination Update

President Hanlon and Trustee Chair Laurel Richie were guests on this week's webcast.

Watch the March 31 Community Conversations webcast with Provost Joseph Helble, President Philip J. Hanlon '77, and Laurel Richie '81, chair of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees.

Dartmouth is working to find out whether, or when, out-of-state students will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in New Hampshire, Provost Joseph Helble told viewers of this week's Community Conversations webcast.

The administration is reaching out to the governor's office to encourage the inclusion of out-of-state students in New Hampshire's vaccine rollout, as Helble noted the majority of states are already opening up vaccination to out-of-state students. The availability of vaccines is evolving rapidly as the federal government ramps up its national distribution process, with the majority of states announcing their intention to vaccinate out-of-state students.

"Please know that we at Dartmouth continue to explore all avenues we can to help the Dartmouth community, including the Dartmouth student community, to get vaccinated," Helble said.

He discouraged students from risking travel to their home states in order to be vaccinated.

"Please give it a week or two to enable us to continue these conversations and see if we can reach a point where it will be possible within the state of New Hampshire," he said. "If it looks as if we're not making progress on that front, then we need to think about the pros and cons of students traveling and the risk that incurs versus the availability of vaccine in other states. But I'm cautiously optimistic."

Vaccinations on the Way

In the past two weeks, Dartmouth has partnered with state officials to facilitate vaccinations of New Hampshire residents—including nearly 550 Dartmouth employees—in the state's phase 2a and 2b eligibility categories, which include those age 50 and up and staff of K-12 schools and licensed childcare and youth camp facilities.

Helble says Dartmouth's COVID-19 Task Force is exploring how to continue this partnership as New Hampshire prepares to open the next phases of vaccine eligibility. In the meantime, he asked that eligible community members seek vaccination options in New Hampshire and Vermont on their own. Vaccinations will be open to all New Hampshire residents age 16 and older on Friday and to Vermont residents 16 and up on April 19.

As the community starts to receive vaccinations, Helble encouraged everyone to continue to stay vigilant about COVID safety.

"We saw in winter term what happens if we are not careful, even for a moment," he said, referring to the COVID-19 outbreak on campus that began in late February. "So again, I remind all members of our community that we need you to stay masked, stay socially distant, and avoid large gatherings—none of that has changed."

Spring, Summer, and Fall

Helble welcomed back undergraduates and graduate students at the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies and Thayer School of Engineering, for whom spring term classes began this week.

"I look forward to seeing more of you—as always, masked and socially distanced—out and about on campus," he said.

As the weather improves and travel quarantines end, students will have a variety of outdoor activities to participate in, including tents for safe gatherings, disc golf, electronic-assist bicycles, boat rentals, and hikes, among other opportunities expected to begin next week. But the traditional Green Key weekend—typically a hallmark of spring in Hanover—will not happen this year, he said.

"We do hope to have many of the components in place, but unfortunately, Green Key as a date simply won't be possible under pandemic operating conditions this spring," he said.

But Helble had progress to report on plans for an in-person commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021. As announced earlier today, the ceremony will take place June 13 on Memorial Field for all graduating students. Graduates who are studying remotely this term will have the option to attend, provided that they meet testing and quarantine requirements. Family and friends will be able to watch the ceremony online. For updates on commencement, including dates for the graduate and professional school investiture ceremonies, visit the Commencement 2021 website.

While now-familiar pandemic protocols will be in place on campus through the spring, Helble said he expects summer to be "a term of transition" as more members of the community are fully vaccinated, although Dartmouth will take a data-driven approach to relaxing safety measures.

"We need to see where we are early in the summer to make a decision as to how quickly we can begin to relax certain of our restrictions," he said. "But I'm fairly confident that we'll be in a position to be able to offer more in-person experiences—which means fully in-person classes, or classes with in-person elements, over the course of the summer."

And he expects fall term to be fully in-residence—though probably with masks still required—and for late-summer orientation activities for the incoming Class of 2025, including first-year trips and the First-Year Student Enrichment Program (FYSEP), to take place in person.

Leadership Beyond the Pandemic

Helble was joined by President Philip J. Hanlon '77 and Laurel Richie '81, chair of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, for a conversation moderated by Vice President of Communications Justin Anderson.

Helble asked President Hanlon to describe how a change that Hanlon had instituted early in his tenure in the way Dartmouth manages its operational budge has helped the College weather the financial pressures of the past year. That change requires each unit of the institution to annually reallocate 1.5 percent of its budget to its most promising new initiatives.

"The result has been robust investment in the academic enterprise, and the smallest percent increase in tuition" in decades, Hanlon said.

Hanlon also discussed the recent announcement of a new fund to support critical infrastructure upgrades. The fund is unusual because it will come from an additional 0.5% draw on the value of the endowment, on top of the 5% Dartmouth already uses in its annual budget. Dartmouth hasn't tapped into the endowment to cover budget shortfalls, protecting what Hanlon calls "intergenerational equity" by preserving its value over the long term.

This new spending is justified, Hanlon said, "because major infrastructure improvements will benefit the campus on into the future."

Richie, who completes her term on the board and as chair in June, called the opportunity to lead Dartmouth's board "a great gift and an honor and a pleasure—the highlight of my career, and maybe even my life."

During the pandemic, Dartmouth benefited from prior fiscal discipline had helped "anticipate a challenge to our financial model," she said. In addition, the board benefited from its members' flexibility, emphasis on transparency and communication, and its diversity.

"All the data tells us that diverse teams lead to more effective institutions, and I would say that we have benefited from the diversity of the board," Richie said.

The board's strong culture helped members transition to remote meetings, she said. "We met more often as a board, and held more impromptu meetings. We have been more nimble during this period, and I suspect that's a skill that that we will carry forward when we are able to get back together."

Community Conversations is a live production of Dartmouth's Media Production Group and the Office of Communications that airs on selected Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. The next show airs April 14.

For the most recent information on Dartmouth's response to the pandemic, visit the Dartmouth Together COVID-19 website.

Hannah Silverstein can be reached at hannah.silverstein@dartmouth.edu.