Emergency Briefing for Resumption of Research Activities at the School of Engineering May 29, 2020


May 29, 2020

Emergency Briefing for Resumption of Research Activities at the School of Engineering

 Takao Someya
Dean, School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo

I am Takao Someya, Dean of the School of Engineering. While we face a difficult situation with the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), research activities will resume in stages starting next week. Today’s emergency briefing is designed to directly address all members on the school policy upon resuming activities.


Before I begin, I extend my deepest sympathy to those affected by the virus. I also pay my sincere respect to the faculty and staff for your dedication in carrying out your jobs in social confusion. Finally, I thank the students for your understanding and patience in overcoming this time of difficulty together.


The basic policy upon resuming research activities is “Adequate Consideration for Health, Safety, and Individual Circumstances.” As our commitment to society, we must ensure safety and minimize the risk of infection upon resuming activities. It is equally important to pay attention to individual conditions, such as members and families with health risks and protecting their privacy.


I will move on to the impact and outlook of COVID-19. According to experts, it will take a few years to develop the vaccines required to prevent infection and the medicine that provide effective treatment. It may take even longer to acquire herd immunity, and during this time, the epidemic is likely to repeat multiple times. We must brace ourselves for a situation where activity restrictions are raised repeatedly. Therefore, the Level 2 period should be considered as a valuable opportunity to prepare on-campus for a second wave of infection. Please keep this in mind and make necessary arrangements while proceeding with research activities. Automation that allows research to continue with a small number of people would be one example. Such measures will be useful from the perspective of preventing other infections in the future.


My next subject is the management of research activities. During Level 3, deans had the authority to permit resumption of research. This decision will be assigned to the Head of Department during Level 2, and to principle investigators at Level 1 and below. During an emergency, we expect a series of new issues to arise in constantly changing circumstances where normal decision-making cannot keep up, especially in a school of this size. The only way to deal with the situation is for experts in each diverse academic field to individually find a solution that is in line with the basic policy. Therefore, we decided to only set out the basic policy—Adequate Consideration for Health, Safety, and Individual Circumstances—allowing each department to respond on site with flexibility, at their discretion.


Allow me to comment on the “Relationship between Academics and an Inclusive Society,” which drives this decision. Academics are rooted in an original way of thinking and diversity of individuals. No single field should be left behind while there is a member in pursuit of an original idea. A university should be an organization where the faculty, members, and students support and respect each other’s individuality. It is during a difficult time like this that we must rise and become the forerunners of an Inclusive Society.


To achieve this goal, the management is ready to work with staff members to provide logistical support such as improvement of IT infrastructure and procurement of supplies such as disinfectants. Each Head of Department is encouraged to respect individual needs and flexibly manage rules at their discretion. Please do not hesitate in trusting your own judgements. Moreover, to all members, I call on the importance of caring for each other. We are all expected to respect others and take responsibility for our roles.


I wish to use this opportunity to express my gratitude to the staff members supporting the field of education. Even though the labs were closed, a limited number of staff continued operating on campus. Thanks to their unceasing efforts, not a single payment nor any procedures for new hires in the School of Engineering were delayed. In addition, infrastructure for online lectures and the introduction of an online voting system were immediately implemented. Research and education in the School of Engineering are indeed supported by a wonderful team. I am honored to be able to work with such a team.


Not a single day passes without wondering how the students, whom we can only meet online, are doing. Are the routers and necessary equipment distributed at the beginning of online lectures working without problems? Remote classes will continue for a while but “trainings and exercises difficult to postpone in correspondence with National Examinations and other criteria” are scheduled to resume once the level is lowered to 1, and I ask for your continued patience. My major concerns are the financial difficulties this situation has brought on to students. While there are reports of government support, it may still take time for the system to be up and running. To offer support during this transition, the School of Engineering has set up an Emergency Assistant Grant and has already begun transferring money to the applicants. I am afraid that this information is yet to reach all students. You have earned the opportunity to study engineering by passing the extremely competitive the entrance examination—please do not give up studying for a degree for any reason. If you are faced with problems, financial or otherwise, I urge you to contact the student counseling office, your supervisor, Head of Department, or any of us without hesitation. Please remember that we are here for you.


Now, I wish to reflect on what is required of Engineering at this critical moment. What came to mind was engineering research on expediting PCR testing. This is, of course, of importance, but after countless discussions with people of various fields, I have come to realize that the role of engineering exceeds my assumptions. Upon conceiving the long-term aftermath of the infection, I have concluded that one of the goals of Engineering is “bringing human activity to nearly 100% of its capacity while containing the risk of infection to nearly 0.” Human activity for us refers to the research and education of engineering, as is production to factories, and any and all activities of human kind—such as dining, sightseeing, travel, and culture, which were severely affected by the spread of COVID-19.


I call upon young researchers and students to join me in my search for the future of engineering. To fight the threat of viruses, mobilizing the knowledge of engineering and promotion of digital innovation is required in addition to the knowledge of medicine and pharmacy. How would the new perspectives such as remote and non-contact impact social values and engineering? In future engineering, it is important to integrate humanities and social studies such as political science and economics in addition to scientific knowledge of information and medicine. I expect young researchers and students to engage in active discussions with researchers of different fields to determine their future direction with a flexible mind.


Humans are weak when faced with crisis, and our minds cease to function properly from the shock. I am, too, inclined to convince myself that “things will be back to normal if we wait a while.” Patient discussions are abandoned and replaced with simple arguments on which to choose from two alternatives. A typical example is the question on which should be given priority, Life or Economy? Independence versus Control is another example. Then, we tend to wait for some brilliant leader to suddenly appear with all the solutions.


Answers should not be sought out by choosing from simple options. Above all, we should not leave decisions in the hands of others. We each must think and determine our own future with our own will. Individual awareness and responsible behavior are the key to fighting virus infection. We must all decide by ourselves and make sure to carry out that decision.


We embark on a new challenge with a big goal to “bring human activity to nearly 100% while containing the risk of infection to nearly 0.” You may ask, “Is this possible?” However, the issue is not whether or not this is possible, but that our very future depends on it. I strongly believe that the University of Tokyo School of Engineering, united, is capable of achieving this mission. Finally, I sincerely hope for the health and safety of the members and families of all who are present today.