In an unexpected move, President Martha E. Pollack announced that the University would suspend all classes as of Friday at 5 p.m. in Ithaca, amid widespread concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak. Virtual instruction is set to begin April 6.
Cornell decided to suspend all classes to accelerate social distancing, to give students more time to figure out their moving out plans and to assuage students’ stresses over the outbreak. The country anticipates a public remark to be issued by President Trump at 3 p.m. today, with many presuming he will declare a state of emergency.
“I implore each of our students to comply with this directive,” Pollack said. “You can do your part to help de-densify the campus and make it safer for those who need to stay by leaving as soon as possible.”
All undergraduate and professional students are encouraged to return to their permanent residencies as soon as possible, the statement read. Students have until March 29 to move out, if they do not have housing accommodations. These rules do not apply to Cornell Tech students, graduate students conducting research on campus or professional students with required clinical rotations.
Undergraduate students and professional master’s students with research or other projects will not be able to continue them, Pollack said. Students are permitted to stay on campus if they are international students who cannot return home.
The surprise announcement comes after Pollack announced on Tuesday that the University would shift to online instruction and encouraged all students to leave campus at the start of spring break. As of Thursday, all eight Ivy League schools have canceled in-person classes.
Now, students have been asked to leave campus as soon as possible as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York State has increased significantly in the past week. The announcement now leaves students frantically figuring out flights, transportation and other moving out plans.
New York State has 421 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon — tying with Washington State for the most cases in the U.S.
There are currently no confirmed cases in Tompkins County, but 15 people have pending test results for the virus as of Friday at 3:33 p.m.
Major events like graduation are still up in the air and it is unclear how online classes will look. The University of Michigan announced on Friday that it would cancel its commencement ceremony.
Professors are still scrambling to figure out how to use Zoom for classes and how to implement assignments and finals. It remains unclear how this recent COVID-19 development will affect classes until spring break.
In Ithaca, stores are beginning to face shortages and long lines as many are stocking up on essentials such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and non-perishable foods in the wake of the pandemic.
Pollack added that students in Ithaca must be prepared for “severely curtailed activities and services.” Cornell Tech and other New York City programs have already begun virtual instruction.
The University is also arranging plans for employees to work remotely, with departments across Cornell finalizing their plans. These plans must be implemented no later than March 20. Pollack added that the University will continue to follow up on the evolving situation. Employees can expect on-time pay for now.
“I know that many students are concerned about the impact that this disruption and transition to remote learning might have on their academic progress,” Pollack said. “This is foremost in our minds, and faculty will provide flexibility and alternatives as needed to students.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.
The full text of Pollack’s email is available below.
Dear Members of the Cornell Community,
Each day brings us new information about the evolving pandemic. I appreciate the grace that so many of you have been demonstrating as we adjust to difficult changes to our lives. Things will continue to be difficult for a while, but by working together we will come through this, as we have with other crises in the past.
While the decisions we made earlier this week made sense at the time, we have been continually reevaluating them in light of the rapidly changing national situation, and today we are announcing additional decisions that speed up the implementation of our plans and also change the way in which our faculty and staff work. These new measures are listed below and are all intended to accelerate and to increase the social distancing that public health experts recommend as the best way to mitigate a pandemic.
Classes Suspended at 5 p.m. Today
Effective at 5 p.m. today (March 13), we are suspending all classes on the Ithaca campus for three weeks. We are doing this for several reasons. First, as noted above, it accelerates social distancing. Second, travel may become more difficult in the coming days, and we want students to be able to get to their homes. And third, we recognize the significant stress that students are under currently, making classroom learning difficult.
All undergraduate students and most professional students are strongly encouraged to return as soon as feasible to their permanent home residences; you must leave campus no later than March 29, unless you receive an exception to stay in on-campus housing. This does not apply to Cornell Tech students, research degree graduate students (e.g. Ph.D. and M.S. degree candidates) conducting research that requires access to campus facilities, or to professional students on required clinical rotations, who will continue to have campus access. Undergraduate students with research or other projects and professional master’s students will not be able to continue these projects in campus facilities. Other students will be permitted to stay in campus housing only if they meet certain criteria; for example, international students who are unable to return home. Graduate assistant and fellowship stipends will continue, as will all Federal Work Study compensation. Importantly, students who remain in Ithaca must be prepared for severely curtailed activities and services.
I implore each of our students to comply with this directive. You can do your part to help de-densify the campus and make it safer for those who need to stay by leaving as soon as possible. And as I mentioned in my March 11 message, once you return home, please practice social distancing there as well, avoiding large gatherings.
Following this three-week pause, virtual instruction will begin for all classes on Monday, April 6. Cornell Tech, which has already transitioned to virtual instruction along with some of our other NYC-based programs, will continue to conduct classes online.
I know that many students are concerned about the impact that this disruption and transition to remote learning might have on their academic progress. This is foremost in our minds, and faculty will provide flexibility and alternatives as needed to students.
Remote-Work for Employees
The public health imperatives of social distancing apply not just to our students but to our faculty and staff as well. The university remains open, but units across the university are in the process of finalizing their remote work plans. Those plans must be implemented no later than Friday, March 20. As soon as a unit’s remote work plan is finalized and approved by the college/unit leader, employees whose responsibilities can be carried out remotely are expected to transition to remote work. We expect that, with few exceptions, all employees will continue to receive their regular pay during this time.
More Details to Follow
The above measures will raise numerous questions, and we will follow up with additional communications to students, parents, faculty and staff by members of my leadership team. All of these communications will be posted, along with the most up-to-date information and FAQ, on Cornell’s coronavirus website.
I truly appreciate your ongoing attention to this unprecedented situation and have confidence that our community will make good choices, which will help to protect everyone.
Martha E. Pollack