Whether we like it or not, the 2020–21 academic year has begun.
From the beginning, members of the campus community have been wary about Ithaca College’s reopening plans. When the first plan to begin in-person instruction in October was announced in May, students and faculty members expressed concerns about health and safety. The plan was bold in all the wrong ways. Other higher education institutions in New York state were planning to move to online instruction in November in anticipation of a spike in COVID-19 cases, just a month after the college expected to bring students from all around the world back to Ithaca.
Four months later, and some members of the campus community are still left unsatisfied. After consistent messaging promising a return to in-person instruction in at least some capacity, many students are disappointed that the college switched to remote instruction for Fall 2020 and is charging the same tuition as if there is no difference between engaging in campus life and sitting in front of a laptop for hours every day.
The college was dealing with a logistical nightmare and had a difficult decision to make. Ultimately, moving to remote instruction was the right call. It helps to prevent the spread of coronavirus among members of the campus community, as well as protecting Ithaca residents. Students need to realize that there is a larger community beyond South Hill, and bringing thousands of young adults back to Ithaca would be irresponsible on the college’s part. The reality is many students have the ability to return home if the pandemic worsens in Ithaca, as many did when the spring semester shifted to remote instruction. Permanent residents would be left to deal with the mess the college community would have made. Here in Ithaca, Cornell University has already added over 40 COVID-19 cases since bringing students back to campus last month, a number that will undoubtedly continue to grow.
As we were left with many questions over the summer, there are still some unknowns.
How will the quality of remote instruction be, given that professors had more time to prepare for virtual classes compared to the abrupt switch to remote instruction in Spring 2020? Will the full tuition, as students are expected to pay this semester, be worth it?
How will Ithaca College adjust its budget to account for the revenue lost from room and board this semester and a lower enrollment? Which programs will be in jeopardy as we move through the academic year?
Even though the college is intending to bring students back for Spring 2021, how will that return to campus be any different from the plans for this fall? Realistically, COVID-19 is not going anywhere. Will students from restricted states still be barred from returning if the pandemic continues or worsens?
The college needs to be as transparent as possible with its students throughout the academic year and take the time to listen to their concerns. Otherwise, it cannot expect them to come back with open arms after this semester — whether it be virtually or in person.