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College of Arts and Sciences

After fall decision, focus shifts to implementation

By: James Dean
Cornell Chronicle
July 7, 2020

The decision to reactivate Cornell’s Ithaca campus for residential instruction this fall was a difficult one. Now comes the even harder work of making it happen.

Course rosters must be assembled. Classrooms and residence halls must be configured to accommodate physical distancing. The logistics of standing up a major COVID-19 testing program – a cornerstone of the reactivation plan – must be hammered out.

President Martha E. Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff have convened eight committees involving senior leadership, faculty and staff to work through scores of details before thousands of students return for the start of fall classes Sept. 2.

“We have lots to do and a very short time to do it,” Kotlikoff said. “Teams of committed individuals are working very hard to help implement this decision, which our modeling shows is the best option for protecting public health.”

Eight implementation committees will share new information as it becomes available in emails, virtual forums and on the university’s COVID-19 website. They are focused on the following areas:

  • Health Considerations: A group led by Gary Koretzky, vice provost for academic integration and a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, will continue to model the potential prevalence of COVID-19 this fall and develop systems for pooled and individual surveillance testing in partnership with Cayuga Health System and the Tompkins County Health Department. The university will expand implementation of the Daily Check tool asking students, faculty and staff approved to be on campus to self-report health symptoms and other risk factors. A dashboard of early warning signs, from symptom reports to local hospital capacity, will be established to provide real-time monitoring of the campus community.
  • Student Life: Students will need to embrace new ways of living, eating and socializing throughout the fall and possibly spring semesters. Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, leads a committee developing behavioral compacts that will apply to students living on and off campus, including agreements to wear masks and practice physical distancing in classrooms and residential facilities and at social gatherings. The university will secure quarantine space and ensure appropriate medical and mental health supports are in place for students. Teams are planning an extended, phased move-in period incorporating “gateway” COVID-19 testing for returning students.
  • Teaching and Advising: Faculty must prepare to teach in person, online or both, while providing remote access for international students or quarantined students. A committee led by Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education, will help resolve those issues and the complex process of scheduling classroom space (significantly limited by physical distancing requirements) and building course rosters explaining how instruction will be offered.
  • Facilities and Supply Chain: From classrooms to bathrooms, access to and movement through facilities must be modified to promote physical distancing. Enhanced cleaning procedures will be implemented. Tents may be set up to provide additional areas for students to gather, reducing interior crowding. A central site will be established for the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment for students, faculty and staff who need it. Rick Burgess, vice president for facilities and campus services, leads the committee.
  • Communications and Community Relations: The resumption of residential learning this fall requires close collaboration with local and state officials. Joel Malina and Jason Cole, respectively the vice president and associate vice president for university relations, will coordinate with community and state partners and oversee the rollout of a public health campaign reinforcing the importance of Cornellians uniting and embracing public health guidelines to protect those in the Cornell community and beyond.
  •  Faculty and Staff Guidance: Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer, leads a committee providing workforce guidance for employees approved to work on campus or continuing to work remotely. Issues include a staged return to campus, ensuring appropriate accommodations are in place, participation in daily health check-ins, updated leave policies and access to flu shots.
  • Research: A team led by Emmanuel Giannelis, vice provost for research and vice president for technology transfer, intellectual property and research policy, is implementing lab safety protocols and undergraduate research opportunities. The university began a phased resumption of nonessential research activities in May, as permitted by New York state.
  • International: Due to the pandemic, many international students may be unable to get visas processed or coordinate travel back to Ithaca. Wendy Wolford, vice provost for international affairs, leads a committee that will ensure these students can access virtual instruction. Eligible students may also consider an in-residence Study Away option established with academic partners in more than a dozen locations.

“We’ve made the decision to reactivate our Ithaca campus,” Kotlikoff said. “Now we’re in implementation mode.”

Read the story in the Cornell Chronicle.