messages from the dean

Strategy for Spring Semester

November 13, 2020

Dear YSM community,

This has been an extraordinarily complicated year due to the pandemic. I want to share my gratitude to our entire community for the remarkable contributions you have made in order to undergird our ongoing programs. Each member of our community is affected by the pandemic, and many of you have had your lives completely disrupted by a variety of circumstances that might range from financial losses to providing care for your extended family to educating school-age children at home while you are trying to do your job. My commitment to keeping this community whole is no less now than it was last March when the pandemic started.

The bifurcated fall semester was based on the assumption that most of our students would be able to return for the performance block. We could not predict how the pandemic and travel restrictions would inform our planning and adversely affect certain areas of study, notably the woodwind, brass, and vocal programs. In preparation for the spring semester, we must consider all options that will maximize students’ experiences. Most importantly, the health and safety of the entire YSM community remains our highest priority. For the spring term, we will operate the school in a hybrid manner. We all realize and understand that our programs continue to be subject to change due to the health and safety guidelines issued by the State of Connecticut and by Yale.

But first, the question of an additional year of study should be addressed. The provost reminded us earlier this week that academic continuity is the university’s highest priority. After serious consideration, we have determined that granting an extra year of study is not possible. We are, however, listening to student and faculty concerns and wish to discuss a strategy of parameters that we hope will address many of those questions, including leaves and improvements to both in-person and online instruction.


Continuation of study

Performance experiences enhanced through technology

In response to the experiences of the community during the performance block, Associate Dean Michael Yaffe and the technology committee will convene the faculty, staff, and students of each performance area to address these issues immediately and to identify ways to bolster the experience of these disadvantaged groups in particular.

Performance opportunities are of utmost importance, and we will consult with peer institutions on successes they have had in this particular area.

Remote-study option

As in the first semester, students may elect to complete the spring semester remotely by petitioning Deputy Dean Melvin Chen. It is important to note that stipends will be disbursed to all students who have a U.S. bank account. You may apply for remote study for spring 2021 via this online form.

Advances in technology

We are prepared to invest in technology to make possible a more robust experience for both remote and in-person activities. 

For example, we will create an eight-room suite with Zoom and recording capability for chamber music, orchestral rep classes, and studio classes. In opera, we will be working closely with faculty and staff to provide additional recording opportunities and linked rooms. Further, in choral conducting and the early-music voice program, Institute of Sacred Music staff and faculty are working to determine how technology can enhance spring semester curricular offerings. 

After Thanksgiving, we will be able to re-convene with the university’s Environmental Health and Safety office to review our current situation, meet with colleagues around the country about their in-person activities, and address what we can with health and safety a priority.

By Nov. 19, we will announce details of the technology committee’s discussions and implement new technologies by Feb. 1, 2021. The possibilities of additional in-person activities will take longer to determine and will most definitely be influenced by conditions in the school and in New Haven.

During this same time, we will survey faculty and students to identify weaknesses in remote instruction and work to remedy these as best we can before the start of the spring semester.


Leaves for spring 2021

These are the parameters and procedures associated with requesting a leave of absence, which students should carefully consider as decisions are being made about the spring semester:

  1. Considering the particular needs of students and programs in more adversely affected areas as outlined above (brass, woodwinds, voice, choral conducting), the deputy dean may consult with area coordinators and studio faculty to better inform evaluation of those requests.
  2. All leaves for the spring 2021 semester must be requested by Dec. 1, 2020—submitted via this online form – with a short explanation for the reason for the leave request.
  3. Other exceptional leave requests will be considered as usual.
  4. Importantly, so that you may make an informed decision about the spring semester, it is critical that you consider the fact that while on leave, you are not an enrolled student. As per university regulations, this means that you will not have access to:
    –health insurance
    –stipends and fellowship funds
    –YSM facilities and resources, both in-person and online
    –university facilities and libraries
    –lessons and seminars
    –school-wide special events
    –employment in any capacity at YSM
    –career counseling
    –Student Relief Fund and the Belding Fund
    –visas: if you are an international student, you cannot be in the United States on a student visa if you are on leave since you are not enrolled.
  1. The deputy dean brings forward recommendations for leave requests to the dean for final approval.
  2. Students will be notified about their requests for leaves no later than Dec. 11, 2020.


For those of you who were not able to join us for the YSM community town hall this morning, here is the link to the recording where you can hear the points laid out above, as well as questions that were answered live. For the questions in which we were not able to respond to or acknowledged the need for further investigation, we will work to communicate those answers to you in the coming weeks to be able to guide you in your decision to request remote study or a leave of absence.

Yale’s commitment to academic continuity is one that we share, and I realize that these are difficult times for everyone. It is obvious that our devoted students, faculty, and staff are working tirelessly to increase and enhance the musical experiences for our community. That is the strength that will enable us to successfully navigate the unimaginable conditions the pandemic has caused. It may be necessary to assist some students with technology support and if that need arises, I encourage you to apply to the Student Relief Fund (found in ArtsVision), which will be broadened in its scope.


Heartfelt thanks to each of you,

Robert Blocker
Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music