CIPA COVID-19 Policy Discussion Series

CIPA's COVID-19 Policy Discussions are a new webinar series featuring Cornell Institute For Public Affairs faculty, CIPA MPA Fellows, and industry experts exploring the various challenges we face in the midst and aftermath of COVID-19.

As we are experiencing, this pandemic has far-reaching impacts on every aspect of society. This series is meant to provide context for further discussion that policy and public affairs practitioners will be having over the ensuing years.  Topics include county legislative responses, disaster mitigation strategies, youth mental health policy, and the balance of power between the federal government and state governments in the United States.

If you have any questions about the CIPA COVID-19 Policy Discussion Series or would like to propose a talk, please contact Maria D. Fitzpatrick, CIPA Director and Associate Professor, Department of Policy Analysis and Management.

Thank you to all of the faculty and their guest panelists who have volunteered to host these crucial Coronavirus-related policy webinars!

The Role of Broadband in Coping with a Pandemic

Moderated By:


  • John Windhausen, Executive Director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition
  • Alicja Johnson, Communications Manager of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

As lockdowns occur around the world the importance of people being able to utilize the Internet for education, health, commercial and social purposes has become critical. The pandemic has exposed, however, the deficiencies and vulnerabilities in our broadband infrastructure. John Windhausen, Executive Director, and Alicja Johnson, Communications Manager, of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition join us to talk about the dimensions and implications of the problem and discuss some policy prescriptions. They speak for about 30 minutes and then there is a Q&A and discussion moderated by John Foote.  SHLB is a nonprofit advocacy organization working to close the digital divide by promoting high-quality broadband for anchor institutions, e.g., schools, hospitals and libraries.

The Four Problems of the Apocalypse for the United Nations


  • John Mathiason, CIPA Adjunct Professor and Managing Director of Associates for International Management Services

The Covid-19 Pandemic has again brought attention to the role of international organizations as a means of solution to the problem.  It has also shown that there are doubts about this, as criticisms of the WHO have shown.  The pandemic is only one of four problems that cannot be solved by the action of individual nation-states or the magic of the marketplace.  The other three, equally dangerous for the world, are climate change, nuclear weapons and cybersecurity.  The forum will discuss why and how the United Nations needs to lead in the solution and what can possibly go wrong.

County Legislative Responses to COVID-19


Government responses to COVID-19 have largely fallen to state and local policymakers, with limited to no guidance from the Federal government. This has left state and county policymakers scrambling to enact policies and programs that will support children and families in their communities. In this talk, we’ll discuss our work with county legislators across New York who have sought support from Cornell researchers to explore best practices on a range of policies, including child care and food insecurity. We’ll share insights from the process of contacting and working with legislators, the topics we’ve covered with legislators, and the challenges and benefits to doing this type of work during a crisis.

Mitigation Strategies and Adaptation to Disasters: Focus on SARS-COVID-19


Both Rebecca and Elizabeth serve together as CO-chairs on FEMA Higher Education Service Learning and Leadership Special Interest Group.

This session focus is on mitigation strategies and adaptation to disasters looking specifically at the SARS-COVID-19 pandemic.  Most institutions have a Continuity of Operation Plan (COOP), however, they may not be tailored to specific disasters such as this pandemic or they may not be updated. When the COOP doesn’t anticipate specific elements, there needs a rapid response to policy decision-making. Rebecca Brenner, Lecturer CIPA at Cornell University and Elizabeth Dunn, Lecturer at College of Public Health at University of South Florida will discuss strategy and policy planning during SARS-COVID-19. What happened, what we learned, and can apply to future decision-making?

Exploring the Effect of COVID-19 on Youth Mental Health Policy, Service Providers and Messaging


Mental health nonprofit organizations face a particular and rather unusual set of circumstances in the COVID-19 era. On the one hand, their services are in high demand by consumers and agencies attempting to meet the ballooning needs in this area. On the other hand, they are facing many of the same serious resource challenges that threaten their very survival. This panel will explore and discuss some of the challenges, opportunities and likely outcomes associated with the delivery of youth mental health support initiatives in the Covid-19 era. We will discuss emerging and anticipated mental health impacts, national coordination of mental health messaging, not for profit organizational sustainability and viability, and the larger challenges of staying personally connected and healthy in the midst of the many professional demands and uncertainties that characterize this moment in history.

Pandemic Politics, Free-For-All Federalism and Realigned Intergovernmental Relations: COVID-19’s New Normal?


The COVID-19 crisis has increased concerns about the balance of power between the federal government and state governments in the United States.  At each stage of the mitigation process, states have acted opportunistically to secure testing and medical supplies, hospital beds, restrict activities, and close/re-open their economies.  Meanwhile, the federal government has vacillated wildly between permissive federalism and state-rights models in response to the pandemic. This conversation will center on whether and how American federalism might or should change in a post-coronavirus world. 

Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, and Global Pandemics


  • Ning Su, Visiting Associate Professor at CIPA, is an expert on global innovation strategies and policies, and qualitative research methods. He holds a Ph.D. from the Stern School of Business of New York University, an M.S. from the University of Toronto, Canada and a B.S. from Fudan University, China. He has worked at IBM in New York and News Corporation in Hong Kong, and advises a portfolio of companies, government agencies, and public and not-for-profit organizations worldwide.
  • Kush R. Varshney is a Distinguished Research Staff Member and Manager at IBM Research - T. J. Watson Research Center where he leads the machine learning group in the Foundations of Trusted AI department and is the founding co-director of the IBM Science for Social Good initiative. He received a B.S. degree from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University in 2004 and a Ph.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010. He is currently writing a book entitled "Trustworthy Machine Learning" with Manning Publications.

Digital technologies are becoming increasingly important during global pandemics and epidemics, including today’s COVID-19. We will discuss the role machine learning, data science, and artificial intelligence technologies have to play in mitigating, managing, and curing global pandemics. We will also emphasize the institutional changes required in how collaborative scientific discovery is conducted.

Work, Workers, and Public Policy During a Pandemic

This event was co-sponsored with the ILR School.


  • Seth D. Harris is an attorney in Washington, D.C. and a Visiting Professor at Cornell University’s Institute for Public Affairs. Building on almost seven years of service in the Clinton Administration, he was Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor (and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet) and Deputy U.S. Secretary of Labor from 2009 to 2014. Now, Secretary Harris is one of the nation’s most sought-after analysts and commentators on work, workers, workplaces, labor market and retirement issues, government leadership, and government performance.  During the recent covid-19 pandemic, Secretary Harris made several dozen television and radio appearances, and participated in webinars for numerous organizations, to help Americans understand the pandemic’s effects on the economy, workers, small businesses, and unemployment, as well as the government’s response to the health and economic crisis.   Secretary Harris brings decades of experience as a teacher and scholar, attorney and advisor, corporate board member, and leader at the highest levels of the U.S. Government. He teaches Leadership in Public Affairs for Cornell graduate and undergraduate students. He has co-authored three books, including Labor and Employment Law & Economics, and authored dozens of scholarly articles and op-eds on labor, employment, leadership, government performance, retirement, and economics topics.   Secretary Harris earned a bachelor of science degree with honors from Cornell University’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations and a juris doctor with honors from New York University’s School of Law, where he was a member of the Order of the Coif and editor-in-chief of the Review of Law & Social Change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put an extraordinary strain on public institutions and policymakers struggling to respond simultaneously to acute public health challenges and the unprecedented economic consequences. Former Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Seth Harris will discuss the pandemic-related public policy issues affecting workers, labor markets, and workplaces and the U.S. government's response to those issues. Secretary Harris led the U.S. Department of Labor's response to the last economic crisis --- the Great Recession --- and the implementation of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.