On Friday, June 10, 2022, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia delivered a Columbia Engineering Alumni Day lecture on the US response to COVID-19 at the first in-person reunion of graduates of Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Garcia is an adjunct associate professor of professional development and leadership in the Professional Development and Leadership program at Columbia Engineering. He delivered one of three lectures in the school’s alumni association REUNION 22 LECTURES on-campus event.
In his lecture, Garcia focused on the intersection of crisis response and ethics, and demonstrated how COVID-19 – as a crisis that simultaneously affected every institution and every individual on the planet – provides a useful case study to see the patterns of effective and ineffective crisis response and ethical decision-making. Garcia quoted the Greek philosopher Plato, who noted: “To understand something difficult, study the biggest instance of it that we can. That’s because the patterns are easier to see. And the pattern is then laid up on heaven for anyone who wishes to contemplate it.”
Garcia began his lecture by laying out the foundational principles of effective crisis response:
- Show you care.
- Take risks seriously.
- Work to mitigate those risks early.
He then contrasted the U.S. response to COVID-19, the worst in the industrialized world, and the Republic of Korea response, among the best. Both nations had their first confirmed case of COVID-19 on the same day, January 20, 2020. South Korea followed the principles of effective response and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines; the United States did not. After one year, the South Korean death rate was 1 fatality for every 39,000 South Koreans; the U.S. death rate was 1 fatality for every 809, or a fatality rate 49 times Korea’s.
Garcia also highlighted the ways that misinformation and the modeling of unsafe practices led to hundreds of thousands of preventable COVID deaths. He quoted the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who in May 2022 called misinformation the leading cause of death in the U.S.
You can watch the full lecture here:
At Columbia Engineering, Garcia teaches ethics and integrity for engineers for all incoming undergraduate, MS, and PhD students. He also teaches graduate electives in advanced ethical decision-making, crisis prevention, crisis response, and leadership communication. Garcia is the author of five books, most recently Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It. His next book is The Trump Contagion: How Incompetence, Dishonesty, and Neglect Led to the Worst-Handled Crisis in American History.