A letter from Peter Todd, Dean of HEC Paris

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Dear Alumni, Dear Friends,

At HEC, like everywhere else in the world, the start of the year, and in particular these last few weeks, have been marked by the unprecedented health crisis, which threatens us all and has created unprecedented challenges for the planet and all of us living on it. 

I therefore wanted to speak to our entire community today, to say first that my thoughts are with you. I hope the best for everyone in our global community as we navigate through this unprecedented moment in our history.  I also want to share with you the manner in which the school, our students, faculty and staff have been coping during this difficult period, on an academic, practical and human level, on the Jouy-en-Josas campus and all over the world.

Things have accelerated over the past two weeks with lockdown in France, the closure of our campus and the cancellation of all HEC face-to-face academic activity in Jouy-en-Josas, Champerret, Qatar and all over the world. My team and I have, however, been managing this crisis on a daily basis since the end of January. We saw the first effects on international exchanges, which were postponed. For our students carrying out internships abroad, administrative support was mobilized so that they could return home if needed. Each situation was managed on a case-by-case basis and the students all followed the two-week isolation rules in force in their home countries.

In stage two of the pandemic fight plan, we activated crisis management procedures. We meet daily to ensure constant adaptation to the ever-changing situation and to answer the questions raised by our students, professors and staff, systematically reviewing the academic, operational and human challenges that our community is facing. This organization enabled us to anticipate the closure of higher education institutions and to develop in advance a distance education plan in order to guarantee the continuation of our programmes, maintaining the same standards of excellence as those in our face-to-face courses. We have also been helping our students return to their families and organise life for those remaining on campus.

Over the past two weeks, extraordinary work has been accomplished by the campus teams. They accompanied the departure of more than 1,500 students and their families who had to leave the campus to go home and follow the confinement rules in effect, in France and around the world. Today, nearly 500 students (some with families) continue to live on campus, and a reduced team of around twenty people are mobilized each day to ensure their safety and provide them with the best service possible under the circumstances. With the university restaurant having been closed by government order, we organized the move of all of these students to rooms with kitchenettes. Most campus buildings are also closed to prevent circulation of the virus including the library, sports facilities, and classrooms. Students are required to work alone in their rooms or in groups of two maximum in dedicated study rooms. Such security rules are difficult to enforce on a campus but most of our students are complying with these, demonstrating exemplary citizenship.

In this difficult and sometimes very stressful context, for our international students in particular who are far from their loved ones, the student affairs team and campus service teams play a vital role on a daily basis, to reassure, advise, as well as enforce the necessary cautionary measures in terms of social distancing and hygiene. The medical staff is proving extraordinary support in these circumstances.   A mini website # StaySafe has been developed by the campus psychiatrist and has already received close to 7000 visits after just a few days of posting. I recommend it to all of you and we welcome suggestions to extend and improve it. 

On the academic front, our faculty and digital education support teams have worked miracles shifting our entire portfolio of face-to-face courses to online format. This week alone, 200 courses have been taught synchronously online via the Zoom platform with around 3,000 students spread around the world. These courses are also available in asynchronous mode so that they can be taken at different times to be available for students in distant time zones, who are sick or who live in an area with limited internet connection. The feedback on the educational experience is extremely positive and the progress made constitutes invaluable force of innovation for our institution. The question of carrying out exams by distance remains the next challenge for our academic teams, though we have identified the technologies to support this process. 

These are the ways in which we have been managing this crisis in recent weeks, constantly keeping in mind the well-being and health of our students, as well as our responsibility to keep classes up and running while maintaining our standards of excellence.

I would also like to highlight some very positive initiatives taken over the past few days by our students and alumni, which illustrate the spirit of mutual support and community that is at the heart of the HEC Paris culture. The Hackathon COVID 19 France has been initiated by two young graduates and will be held on April 10th until 12th. Its goal is to contribute to the collective effort to fight the pandemic by bringing together a maximum number of "brains" over a 48-hour period to search for effective solutions to overcome the health, economic and social challenges posed by the crisis. I encourage you to participate in this initiative.

I would also like to thank another group of alumni based in China who are working hard to facilitate the delivery of hundreds of thousands protective masks and other medical equipment to France in record time thanks to a secure supply chain.  This initiative, which grew very rapidly, is now being supported by international NGOs. You can contribute to this by following the link that Frédéric Jousset will send you in a future message.

Finally, I would like to thank our Equal Opportunity team, who is working with 200 HEC Paris students in order to extend its support and mentoring activities to deserving high school students in Ile-de-France during this period of confinement. Despite difficult conditions, this enables them to continue their preparation for the baccalaureate by distance with coaching and mentoring from our talented students.  Among all the campus initiatives, the HEC Foundation remains actively engaged with HEC. Working closely together, we are already currently setting up a solidarity fund to help the students are most directly affected by this unprecedent crisis. I know that we can count on every single alumni to support these initiatives.

I will get back to you in the coming weeks to talk about the future of HEC, the post-crisis situation that we all hope arrives soon, on which the leadership team of the School is actively working on. We are convinced that there will be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ coronavirus and that these circumstances, for all their difficulties are creating opportunities for innovation and transformation. We know that with innovative spirit, our institution, like the rest of the world, will emerge stronger and more united from this ordeal. All we need to remember is to continue to “Learn to Dare”.

I urge you all to stay safe, to obey the safety regulations in force in your respective countries, and to take care of those around you, especially those most in need.

Best regards

 

Peter Todd

Dean - HEC Paris