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September 18, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Senior leadership team provides updates on COVID-19 related changes

The senior leadership team of Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado’s administration updated students about how the college will be moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic via Zoom on April 3.

The senior leadership team addressed concerns about grading options, affiliated study abroad programs, summer classes, housing, refunds for room and board, financial aid packages, commencement, access to belongings on campus, students financial struggles and orientation. Collado said this meeting is one of many virtual meetings that the college will host to interact with the community and answer questions and concerns. 

The college will also be updating the community regularly via email as decisions are made, Collado said. 

Rosanna Ferro, vice president for student affairs and campus life, said approximately 70 questions were submitted in advance in addition to questions submitted live during the Zoom session. Many questions were answered during the meeting, and Ferro said the college has been and will continue to respond to inquiries individually. 

Collado said her leadership teams priority is keeping the Ithaca and Ithaca College communities safe.

“We’ve been pretty diligent about having a phased approach in our decision-making,” Collado said. “Now, we are working through this storm together, and I am asking you to be patient, to be thoughtful and really think about our collective [community]. We have students and families members right now negotiating their realities and lives, and we know that.”

Collado also said she recognizes students’ anxieties and mixed emotions around switching to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the college’s spring break, Collado announced that the break would be extended for an extra week from March 15 to 21 and that the following week would proceed with classes online. After the two week period, classes were originally planned to continue back on campus. However, the college later announced March 17 that classes would be online for the remainder of the semester because of COVID-19.  

“We have been drained, activated, hopeful, scared and anxious,” Collado said. “Our beloved college sits at the epicenter of this crisis.”

New York is currently the state with the highest number of positive cases of COVID-19. Out of the 459,165 positive cases in the United States as of April 10, 180,458 of the cases are located in New York state, according to the New York State Health Department. However, the majority of these cases are currently in New York City. 

The U.S. has surpassed the number of positive cases in China, where the disease originated. 

In Tompkins County, there are currently 112 positive cases, with 127 test results pending, as of April 10. There currently have been one death and 82 recoveries, according to Tompkins County Health Department. Additionally, 2,051 cases came back negative.

Collado briefly addressed how COVID-19 will affect the 2020–21 academic year budget, which is anticipated to be released in May. 

Collado said she recognizes that many staff and faculty members, in particular, are nervous about the future of the college. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the college was facing a financial crisis as a tuition-dependent college because of issues including lower enrollment and stagnant donations.

Collado mentioned these concerns at the All-College Gathering on Jan. 28, in which she alluded to imminent changes that could result in position and department cuts because of the college’s financial crisis. 

La Jerne Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said the students will have the option to take classes S/D/F for this semester. However, she advised students to speak to their academic advisers before making that decision because certain programs, including graduate programs, as well as certain financial aid packages have GPA requirements. 

Cornish also said the college will look at cumulative GPAs to allow some students with financial aid packages that have GPA requirements to take courses S/D/F.

Cornish also announced that the affiliated London Center and New York City programs will be canceled for the 2020–21 academic year. However, the Los Angeles program will remain open but will be closed for summer 2020. The programs are anticipated to reopen for summer 2021. 

In an email sent March 31 to students planning to study abroad during the 2020–21 academic year, the college said it was closing the programs “to redirect its resources to the re-opening of the Ithaca campus, the return to full-time operation, and to re-engagement with its student body.” 

Those who were accepted to the London Center or ICNYC programs for Fall 2020 can defer admission to Summer 2021, Fall 2021 or Spring 2022. Those students were also encouraged to apply for on-campus housing and on-campus classes for Fall 2020. 

Rachel Gould, director of the Office of International Programs and Extended Studies, said via email to The Ithacan April 9 that the college will allow students to study abroad on non-affiliated programs during the 2020–21 academic year. However, she said she will not encourage students to travel internationally. 

“Given the very fluid situation and uncertainty regarding COVID-19, we do not encourage students to plan international travel or study abroad for the next academic year as we cannot predict the impact the virus may have on such plans,” Gould said via email.

Jeane Copenhaver-Johnson, associate provost for academic programs, said during the Zoom session that most summer programs were already planned to be online and will continue as planned. However, the college has not decided how it will proceed with summer classes for graduate students who have clinical requirements that must be met in-person. She said the college will decide how it will proceed with providing summer housing when the decision about summer graduate programs is made. 

Laurie Koehler, vice president for marketing and enrollment strategy, said the college will be offering credits for room and board through students accounts rather than offering flat credit refunds.

The room and board refund will allow the college to analyze student refunds on a case-to-case basis because students can opt for different housing and meal plans, resulting in different total costs for room and board. 

“This is really complicated, and we want to make sure we get it right,” Koehler said.

Collado sent an email to the campus community April 8 detailing how students will be refunded for room and board. 

Koehler also said the college is revisiting the financial aid budget for the 2020–21 academic year because of changing financial circumstances for many students and their families. 

She encouraged students whose circumstances have changed to fill out a “change of financial status” form so that the college can re-evaluate their financial aid packages. She also encouraged students to complete their FAFSA forms. 

The college has also established an emergency relief fund to help students who are experiencing immediate financial hardship, such as students who will have to pay rent for off-campus housing, Cornish said. She said the college can allocate up to $500 per student. 

Dean of Students Bonnie Prunty said the college is not concerned about not having enough housing for students despite an influx of students being on campus because affiliated study abroad programs were canceled. Students have previously raised concerns about shortages of on-campus housing and rejections of off-campus housing requests. She said approximately 100 students who were supposed to participate in affiliated study abroad programs will be returning to campus.

Prunty also said that currently, the college anticipates allowing students to gather the rest of their belongings in the middle of May. She and other members of the leadership team echoed that this decision was made to guarantee the health and safety of Ithaca College community members.

Prunty also said the college has yet to decide whether or not it will offer housing for seniors and their families for commencement, which is currently scheduled to take place the weekend of Aug. 1. However, if that date is no longer feasible because of current events, Cornish said, commencement would be rescheduled to 2021. 

Cornish also said the college is trying to schedule a Senior Weekend, as opposed to a Senior Week, so that the Class of 2020 can partake in some of the traditions of finishing an education at Ithaca College such as jumping in the fountains outside of the Dillingham Center on campus.

The Center for Counseling and Psychological Services is also still available via Zoom or telephone for those who were previously seeing therapists or would like to see a therapist, Prunty said. 

In response to a pre-submitted question, Prunty said Fall 2020 orientation is still planned to take place on campus in August. However, contingency plans are being made if it needs to move online. 

Falyn Stempler can be reached at fstempler@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @falstempler