The Ithaca College Return to Campus Task Force announced that there are four possible academic calendars for the 2020–21 academic year.
The announcement was made at a meeting run by task force co-chairs La Jerne Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, and Rosanna Ferro, vice president for student affairs and campus life, June 18 via Zoom. One option has Oct. 5 as the beginning of classes for all students; the second has remote learning starting two weeks before returning in person Oct. 5; the third has remote learning starting three weeks before returning in person Oct. 5; and the fourth option has classes starting remotely at the end of August and returning in person Oct. 5. Cornish said that there may be remote learning after Thanksgiving break but that has not yet been determined.
Cornish said students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to submit an accommodation through the Office of Human Resources to learn or work remotely if it is not safe for them to be on campus.
“I know that [the calendar] is on the hearts and minds of many people,” Cornish said. “Trust that we have heard you, that we are firm, but we are also flexible.”
Jeane Copenhaver-Johnson, associate provost for academic programs, said that Oct. 5 will be the first day of in-person classes, and it will not be changing. Many students have expressed concern about the start date, and a petition, which has gained over 700 signatures, was started by students to change the start date.
Copenhaver-Johnson said that May 20 will be the last day of the academic year calendar, meaning all classes and finals for the academic year will be done by that date. The 2021 Commencement ceremony will be May 23, and the college does not anticipate changing it, Cornish said. The calendar that the college released May 26 had the college’s Commencement date as May 30, which was the same weekend as Cornell University’s scheduled Commencement.
Many colleges, including Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, have announced plans to move to remote instruction after Thanksgiving break. Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York, announced its first day of classes will be in August and will transfer to remote learning after Thanksgiving break.
Cornish said she hopes to be able to release the fall schedule by the end of June.
The fall calendar will be compressed, Copenhaver-Johnson said, and she hopes the calendar will have final exams for the fall semester done by Dec. 18. The academic calendar for 2020–21 that was released May 26 had finals at the end of January and Spring 2021 beginning Feb. 4.
“We would hopefully be able to restore our spring calendar to a regular 15-week model that would look more similar to what we had in a nonpandemic context,” Copenhaver-Johnson said.
She said that student, faculty and staff feedback was in mind to make the fall semester more compressed. She said that they want to make sure December graduates can graduate on time, that students who planned to take winter classes can do so and that students will have a break after an intense semester.
Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado said that the phased move-out over the summer prevents the year from starting in person earlier because of dorms needing to be sufficiently cleaned.
“Institutions have made announcements about August starts without actually knowing what the state guidelines will be,” Collado said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said June 18 that the state will determine guidelines for reopening, and colleges will have to submit reopening plans, monitoring plans, containment plans and shutdown plans to the state.
Ferro said that there have been many questions regarding student well-being while on campus. Ellyn Sellers-Selin, physician and medical services director, said the college will be following New York State Department of Health, Tompkins County Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on quarantining recommendations.
“If a student is ill prior to going home, we would be working with our local health center and local health partners to make sure that our students are well taken care of,” Sellers-Selin said.
She said that the college will be working closely with the Tompkins County Health Department if students need further testing or quarantining because of a positive COVID-19 test to ensure students have the care they need. Sellers-Selin also said Hammond Health Center will be looking at more telehealth options for students and ways to keep sick students separate in the health center.
Bill Guerrero, vice president for finance and administration, said that the task force is working on standards to determine what personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed on campus. Sellers-Selin said proper PPE will be encouraged for all students, faculty and staff. She said that as the college receives more guidance on proper campus PPE, that will be communicated to students.
She said that staggering when students at Ithaca College, Cornell University and Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) return to campus is necessary so testing can be done in conjunction with Cayuga Medical Center. Cornell and TC3 have not announced their Fall 2020 plans yet.
Ferro also stressed the importance of working with local officials on students’ return to campuses in the town.
“We have been really thoughtful and careful to not place the burden on our community of not staggering,” Ferro said. “We are being really collaborative and making sure that we are speaking to each other. The three institutions in the county are in lockstep.”
She said the community has to be cautious because Tompkins County may not be able to sustain a major outbreak. As of June 19, the county has had 166 coronavirus cases, 162 recoveries, two nonresident deaths and zero hospitalizations.
Ferro said that many messages to the campus community mention incentives to remain on campus during breaks. She said there will not be as many large-scale events as have happened on campus before but more smaller group activities. She said the task force does not currently have plans regarding on-campus events, but it will be announced before the return to campus in the fall.
Dean of Students Bonnie Prunty said she and Marsha Dawson, director of the Office of Residential Life and the Office of Judicial Affairs, are working with their staff members to figure out how to build community, especially in residence halls, in smaller groups.
“There are also other ways we will encourage students to remain on campus,” Prunty said. “It will be through the vibrant programming. The calendar will do some of it. If we don’t have a week off, not as many people will travel home for just a couple of days.”
She said there is also the option of Ithaca College not closing during winter break like it usually does.
Ferro said the college and task force are still working on details for Fall 2020, and feedback can be submitted on the task force’s website.