Message from President Christian on proposed campus re-opening plans

Dear Members of the Campus Community:

Now that Governor Cuomo and the NYS Health Department have issued guidance (on Friday, June 19) for higher education that allows for some in-person classes and on-campus housing, we write to update you on our planning efforts. Members of the campus community have been working diligently on a plan for safely reopening for fall 2020. A draft of that plan was submitted to SUNY on June 23 for review and comment. The Governor has authorized SUNY to approve campus plans.

I realize some SUNY campuses have already placed their summary plans on their website, but these are drafts and could change based on SUNY feedback. We want to release one plan, the FINAL plan, to avoid the confusion associated with releasing multiple copies.

Once SUNY approves our plan, it will be made available to you. We’re pleased to share with you the main elements of our plan, consistent with state guidance we have received.

Here are a few of the key elements in our plan that are likely to remain unchanged and through my discussions with other SUNY presidents, these elements are consistent with what many other SUNY are planning. Please remember, none of this is final until SUNY affirms our plan:

  • We will continue to prioritize health and safety in keeping with guidance of the NYS Department of Health and other oversight agencies.
  • Classes will begin Monday, August 24, per our existing fall schedule.
  • Instruction during the fall semester will cease on Wednesday, November 25, 2020, to reduce the possibility of reinfection from Thanksgiving travel. The final exam period will be online after Thanksgiving.
  • We have increased the number of instructional days before Thanksgiving by using Labor Day and Fall Break so that the semester will end as scheduled.
  • We will provide a mix of remote, online, and face-to-face courses to reduce on-campus density and better manage person-to-person interaction. Given space constraints, many of our classes cannot be conducted as in-person courses while maintaining the proper social distancing advised by health officials.  A capacity analysis is currently being finalized.
  • We will prioritize face-to-face instruction for select laboratory, studio, clinical and equipment-essential courses, along with some General Education and gateway courses to our majors with appropriate social distancing. These gateway and GE courses will offer our first-year population, which will be prioritized for on-campus housing, the opportunity for some face-to-face instruction to acclimate them to academic life and support retention.
  • Students will be required to quarantine for a period before the start of seated classes per the governor’s guidance for reopening of colleges and universities. International students must quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
  • We have an ADA accommodation procedure in place to support students, faculty and staff who, for medical reasons, cannot safely return to campus.
  • There will be a process whereby other faculty and staff may request to meet obligations remotely and every effort will be made to honor those requests while still delivering the curriculum and on-campus educational, administrative, and student support services.
  • Health screening will be ongoing throughout the semester. COVID-19 testing will be based on symptoms and exposure, and will follow SUNY recommendations.
  • Facial coverings will be required in all campus buildings and for in-person classes, and when traveling through campus where social distancing is not possible.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as masks, will be provided to employees and students. Face shields and plexiglass barriers will be provided as warranted.
  • Residence hall capacity will be reduced to 2,900 students in double occupancy rooms, with no triples. First-year students, international students and students who face housing situations that present barriers to access and support for academic success will be prioritized for campus housing, along with those in programs with heavy lab, studio, equipment-intensive and clinical components.
  • One residence hall will remain empty to provide quarantine space should COVID cases emerge in the fall.
  • Dining services will operate but will do so with reduced density and with safety protocols advised by health officials.
  • We may be required to pivot to all remote instruction during the semester if the pandemic resurges. This pivot will be determined by SUNY, the Governor and local and state health officials.

These are just a few of the many key points contained in the draft plan.

Work group engagement, as well as consultations, took place through our existing structures. Deans gathered information regarding course delivery needs. We had conversations with faculty and student governance. Because of the uncertainty of our fall semester, we have continued our monthly meetings with faculty and student governance and with UUP Executive Committee through the summer to hear concerns and questions about our fall planning. These conversations have informed our fall efforts. We are grateful to those who have asked questions and submitted concerns as they have been invaluable to our planning.

Following review and certification of the plan, additional input will be sought from faculty, staff, and students in addressing further considerations for implementation. In preparing the plan, a task force and various work groups were consulted. Many of these groups include academic and professional faculty and we will appoint or invite additional representatives to ensure employee and student concerns are heard.

I look forward to sharing the full content of the approved plan with you as soon as possible. We anticipate there will be questions and concerns about aspects of the plan, and we will offer ample opportunities this summer for you to raise those questions. Please know that we are committed to working closely with employees to hear and accommodate individual concerns and circumstances where possible while still serving our students’ educational needs in a safe environment that has been largely dictated by health experts in the form of state guidance.

Donald P. Christian