June 5, 2020

The 6 P’s of Reopening your Campus Post-COVID-19: A Conversation with NYU Shanghai’s David Pe

Advising Leaders, Forecasting Trends

By Maggie Walsh

Due to COVID-19, universities across the world are in a sprint to develop plans – and backup plans – for the coming fall semester. Having resumed the spring semester in-person, universities in China can serve as a window into what reopening might look like. brightspot sat down with New York University Shanghai’s Dean of Students, David Pe, to discuss their process and implementation for reopening their Pudong, Shanghai campus in early May 2020.

NYU Shanghai is a relatively new campus, first opening in Shanghai as the first Sino-US university in China. Since their opening in 2013, they have experienced many “firsts” with the COVID-19-induced closure and reopening of campus being the most recent. Their 1,500 students were spread across the world on winter break both across, and outside of China when the decision to close campus was made. Moving from the tight-knit community contained in one academic building, and a handful of residential buildings, to a worldwide digital institution, was a swift one with few precedents to follow. They recognized their responsibility to share this information with their counterparts across the world and published their Digital Teaching Toolkit online. Just as quickly as they moved to online learning, NYU Shanghai is forging the way for US institutions to navigate the reopening of their campuses.

Having been open for just under a month with about 30% of the students back on campus, Pe offered advice for institutions looking toward this fall: institutions should consider the 6 P’s as a framework for reopening. There are state and nationally-mandated and university policies, institutional priorities, communication with people, predetermined procedures, necessary products, and effectively maintained places.


As a starting point, ensure that your institution is aware of and following the national, state, regional, and university-level policies that have been put into place. Recognize that your students may be coming from areas with different perspectives on the current regulatory environment, so clarity regarding the policies affecting your institution is essential. NYU Shanghai and other Chinese institutions abide by a variety of common policies: conducting temperature checks upon entry, requiring all to wear masks, implementing a 14-day quarantine for those returning from specific locations, restricting group activity, and regulating visitors.

Man entering NYUSH’s academic building has a temperature screening


For student life, it is inevitable and arguably essential that certain activities and initiatives will be put on the back burner during these times. Institutions must first strive to preserve the health and safety of their community. Doing so in a way that preserves staff bandwidth and resources may lead to certain areas receiving less administrative attention. NYU Shanghai knew that an area they would not be able to support as robustly would be their student organizations. Regardless, students were able to work on hosting virtual events, and held some unique engagements, such as writing and acting a play entirely on Zoom. Where institutional resources are few, crowd-sourcing solutions and ideas within the community may be a viable option, and opportunity to engage others in the institution’s reopening plan.

In terms of academic priorities, recognize the different environments all students will be in leading up to and during the fall semester. Focus on leveling the playing field for various populations of students. This should be represented in the instructional model you move forward with. For NYU Shanghai, while some students returned to campus, many students residing outside of mainland China had to continue courses virtually, while their counterparts were attending in-person. In order to create a consistent experience, all students, regardless of their location, took their final examinations online. Consider areas in your instructional model that may create dissonance between different populations, and adjust accordingly.


The factor with the greatest variance throughout this process will be people. We are all experiencing this time through a different lens, making our reactions and responses equally as divergent. For students, introduce a Code of Conduct to guide your reopening process and expectations. NYU Shanghai’s code of conduct recognized that each person was coming from a different location, culture, or circumstance, and the term, “social distance” needed to have more definition behind it. They, formalized this Code of Conduct by requiring an “apply to return” policy, where students agree to abide by the Code upon return. Then, they reinforced expectations through an orientation process once students returned. It is essential that this code of conduct is communicated clearly across multiple channels leading up to and throughout the reopening process.

Students are not the only people with which you need to effectively communicate. In an effort to bring clarity and democracy to a murky process, develop a core response team to oversee the reopening process. NYU Shanghai developed this team, and thought of it as their pilot team, testing and assessing proposed processes before they were officially put in place. This team should be representative of faculty and staff across divisions and departments. This group will be integral in planning, implementing, and assessing a successful university reopening strategy.


Staff and faculty are independently considering how to respond to a variety of situations, sometimes formally, and sometimes off the cuff as circumstances emerge. This can lead to redundancies, overuse of physical and human resources, inconsistent student experiences, and elevated health and safety risk. Create clear procedures for daily routines and desired behaviors. When developing procedures, these are our recommended considerations.

  • Practice. Use drills as learning opportunities for each procedure idea you propose. NYU Shanghai used drills often to evaluate their ideas in action. For example, NYU Shanghai administration role-played eating in the cafeteria, and the various seating arrangements possible. Only through playing these ideas out in physical space were they able to debunk a few ideas, and settle on their final “procedure,” illustrated in the photo below.
NYUSH’s cafeteria seating arrangement, one seat per table, unidirectional seating
  • Enlist. Build upon the collective power of your institution’s greater community to amplify impact, including staff, faculty, students, community members, industry peers, etc. NYU Shanghai developed a procedure called the Faculty Reporting System. This was a concrete process faculty knew how to follow if they had concerns regarding a student’s health. This provided clarity and process to an often ad-hoc action on behalf of faculty, making it more acceptable, widespread, and transparent.
  • Augment. Do not reinvent the wheel, consider augmenting existing tech systems and daily routines to fill in the COVID-19 induced knowledge gaps. NYU Shanghai activated their building’s “tap-out” feature so those who entered the academic building had to both “tap-in” and “tap-out” with their NYU ID, bringing greater clarity as to who was in the building at all times. There are many procedures that each institution has invested resources into developing. Rather than add, consider what may be altered to meet your goal. Looking into the features of your building’s sensors, or adding a step to your public safety “rounds” may be a way to address a knowledge gap without too much change.
  • Minimize. There is enough on people’s minds, make sure you limit the extra “decision points” in daily life, on behalf of both service providers, and service recipients. NYU Shanghai created a “set lunch” cafeteria. You would order your meal online ahead of time, and pick it up upon entering the cafeteria, limiting staff interaction with diners. Additionally, the set lunch practice helped gauge food demand in a time of questionable availability and limit the movement and transfer of food between staff members to allow for proper social distancing. What are the decision-heavy processes taking place in your institution?
  • Digitize. Take interaction-heavy service experiences, and digitize them. NYU Shanghai implemented seat-booking for their library. This allowed individuals to make a more direct path toward their seats, eliminating a prolonged search process, where one might take several laps around the library before finding an available seat.

Overall, when developing your procedures, practice your ideas, enlist help from the community, augment existing processes, minimize decision points, and digitize interaction-heavy processes.


The availability of certain products has been nerve-wracking to many in the U.S. during recent months. From toilet paper to pork, people are stocking up and hiding away essentials. By providing consistent and readily available access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for all at the institution, you can alleviate undue stress on part of your community. Ensure you have an established supply pipeline for unexpected product shortages, and a stable channel for replenishment. It is recommended that you have a 30-day supply at minimum in storage, as well as expanded storage capacity at your facility.

Behavioral change is not easily accomplished without intervention. Using “behavior-guiding” products can help remind people of the health and safety actions they should be taking. NYU Shanghai has implemented a series of signage, stickers, and digital reminders to help reinforce their code of conduct. For example, there are footprints in each corner of the elevator to ensure everyone stands properly apart, as well as a mounted bottle of hand sanitizer, and a sign reminding you to sanitize before and after pushing the elevator button (pictured below). Begin thinking about the facets of life on campus that will require the greatest level of behavioral change, and identify how products may help to guide behaviors toward the ideal state.

Wall-mounted hand-sanitizer in the elevator

Technology is a product in itself worthy of immense consideration during this time. Any investment in technology right now is best allocated toward filling in gaps to ensure a healthy environment on campus. Beyond NYU Shanghai’s internal digital capabilities of pre-ordering food, booking a library seat, or “tapping” in and out of the building, is China’s digital contact tracing practice. To enter NYU Shanghai, you must have a “green” QR code on your Alipay app (a widespread application part of day-to-day life in China). This code, either green, yellow, or red, is generated through Alibaba, a major corporation, using data from your movements, and tracing it against other citizens who have tested positive for COVID-19 or come in contact with some who have tested positive. Of course, what works in one place may not work in another, and an intervention like this may not be a viable option for a university. Therefore, consider the ways tech may help you track the diagnosis and spread of COVID-19 within your own community.

NYUSH’s Chancellor Yu Lizhong showing his green Alipay QR code


Many are growing used to the increased hygiene and social habits required during this pandemic. However, upon return to campus, the use of public space is something that is yet to be fully determined. Creating clear guidelines for how space should be used, and more so, how it should NOT be used, will be an important step in change management. Here are a few ways to think about changing the use, and communicating the change of key spaces in your institution.

  • Differentiate. Differentiate space use expectations across various building types. NYU Shanghai created different standards for their academic building and its residence halls.
  • Limit. For areas that draw groups, create limits for how many people can be there. NYU Shanghai limited the number of students in a study room to 1, group meetings in an open space to 4, and specified unidirectional seating at long, double-sided tables.
  • Encourage. Certain spaces, such as the restrooms can contribute to hygiene. NYU Shanghai made it clear that they encourage the use of the restrooms, and that it was safe to use them, emphasizing their importance for hand-washing. This can also be a PPE and supplies destination.
  • Close. Create regular opportunities for a complete shutdown of spaces for deep cleaning and sanitizing. NYU Shanghai closes its typically 24/7 building after the last class of the day so that students do not linger, and staff have sufficient time to clean for the next day.
  • Circulate. Make sure your HVAC system has the right air exchange rates, filtration, and humidity – read more on this here.
  • Isolate. Create an isolation destination if someone receives a high-temperature reading upon entry. NYU Shanghai has an isolation room adjacent to the entry, where someone with a high temperature waits for 5 minutes before receiving a second test, after which decision and action can be carried out.

Looking into the actions NYU Shanghai took to prepare for the reopening of their campus can help institutions across the world prepare for this coming fall. The specific actions taken by NYU Shanghai are likely most applicable to smaller, private liberal arts colleges, while larger institutions might look to reference the plans of larger Chinese universities, such as Fudan or Jiaotong University. Comparing the different national responses to COVID-19 seems to be one of the most popular issues across media today, but the human issues that remain at the core of this virus are certainly something we can all learn from.

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