Ithaca College will be holding classes remotely for Fall 2020, a change from its initial plans for in-person instruction.
In an email sent to the college community Aug. 18, President Shirley M. Collado said that she and the Senior Leadership Team made the decision based on the continuing severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The email stated that the necessary modifications, including facilities preparedness and population density, would alter the on-campus experience in a way that the administration would not want students to have. Additionally, Collado said that it is likely that the college would have had to close at some point during the semester, a situation that would have caused a disruption of the academic experience.
“Personally, this saddens me greatly, and I have sincerely missed seeing our campus activated with our students’ energy and their zest for learning and for life,” Collado wrote. “I also know how very much our students want to return to IC — we have heard your voices so clearly.”
The college is anticipating welcoming students back to campus for Spring 2021, as long as circumstances related to the pandemic allow it to do so.
Collado wrote in the email that faculty members are prepared to teach courses online. For classes that are better taught in-person, La Jerne Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, has begun working with each of the schools’ deans to build flexibility where possible into the sequencing of certain courses. This will enable the college to utilize the fall semester to engage in learning that lends itself to a remote format and delay courses that better fit with an in-person experience. Students whose programs require hands-on experience for licensure or accreditation, like in certain health professions, will be permitted to attend key learning experiences on campus, according to the email.
Rosanna Ferro, vice president for student affairs and campus life, is working to create cohort-based programming to keep students engaged remotely.
In May, the college announced that the academic year will begin with in-person instruction on Oct. 5. This included a phased move-in process with the intention of bringing all residential students back to campus. The first phase of students was expected back on campus beginning Aug. 28. Classes were set to start with hybrid instruction Sept. 8.
The college has been communicating plans about returning to campus, including the implementation of the Return to Campus Task Force, since May. Just last week, the college released its 30-plus page Return to Campus Plan, detailing the repopulation of the campus, monitoring the campus community’s health, containment of the coronavirus and the shutdown of the campus if necessary. Collado stated in the email that the college will still be implementing parts of the plan to serve essential faculty and staff and select program-based cohorts of students who will be on campus for key learning experiences. The college has also already started its COVID-19 tests for faculty, staff and students who live off campus last week.
Additionally, the Health and Safety Advisory Group is expanding to include Dave Gondek, associate professor in the Department of Biology, and Kari Brossard Stoos, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education. The other members of the advisory group are Christina Moylan, new director of public health emergency preparedness and former associate dean of the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance; Ellyn Sellers-Selin, medical services director of the Center for Counseling, Health, and Wellness; Bill Kerry, director of the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management; and Tim Ryan, assistant director for Environmental Health and Safety, in this advisory group.
The college is one of many institutions of higher education that have reversed their plans for in-person instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Most notably, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced Aug. 17 that it will shift from in-person to remote classes after just a week of in-person instruction because of a spike in COVID-19 cases on campus. Locally, Cornell University and Tompkins Cortland Community College are still set to hold in-person classes for the fall semester.
As of Aug. 17, Tompkins County has five active cases of COVID-19. Ithaca College previously stated that it is working with the Tompkins County Health Department, Cayuga Medical System and other local stakeholders to ensure that the return of students to the college does not cause a spike in cases in the county.
The college will be holding an all-faculty gathering from noon to 1 p.m. Aug. 19, an all-student gathering from 6 to 7 p.m. Aug. 19 and an all-staff gathering from 1 to 2 p.m. Aug. 24 to discuss these changes.
“I know this decision to continue remote learning through the fall is disappointing, and it does not reflect what any of us had hoped for,” Collado wrote. “But I sincerely believe this is the correct and responsible choice for Ithaca College to help protect the health and safety of our students, their families, our faculty and staff, and our Ithaca-area communities.”