As the impact of the COVID-19 crisis continues to expand, some Cornell faculty — who have scrambled to address the effects the pandemic will have on students, families and University staff — are now focusing on the Ithaca community, which they fear will be irreparably harmed.
On Thursday, the Cornell Coalition for Inclusive Democracy, a group composed primarily of Cornell faculty, started a petition — addressed to President Martha E. Pollack and Cornell’s Board of Trustees — on Change.org imploring the University to support the local community during the crisis.
In the petition, which had been signed by 246 people as of Friday afternoon, the faculty wrote that Ithaca’s prosperity is a key factor in influencing students’ and faculty’s decision to come to Cornell. The professors who signed the petition expressed concerns about the impact the coronavirus will have on Ithaca and called on Cornell to help mitigate the local economic impact.
“Cornell cannot thrive without Ithaca,” the petition reads. “With the spread of Covid-19, however, thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors face threats of a kind and degree unseen in our lifetime.”
While Cornell cannot thrive without Ithaca, many fear that the reverse is also true: Local businesses and the economy as a whole are likely to struggle with students’ early departure.
According to the Ithaca Journal, Cornell students spend $4 million in Ithaca and Tompkins County per week when school is in-session. A Cornell report estimated that over the course of a year, Cornell students inject $221 million into the local economy.
Ithaca businesses are already facing the harsh reality of a spring without Cornell students. April and May are usually two of the busiest months of the year for restaurants and other small companies — one business owner said these spring months are the “lifeline of business.”
The petition asks the administration to create a committee to make recommendations on how the University can support the community and its members.
Suggestions of what these recommendations should be include asking trustees to make unrestricted donations in order to “help preserve the Ithaca they know and love,” freezing rents on University-owned properties and increasing funds that Cornell contributes to the City of Ithaca.
Gregar Brous, the owner of Collegetown Bagels, told The Sun last week that economic relief for the city likely needed to come from Cornell.
“You have campuses like Amazon which sent all [its] employees home, who [are] supporting all the businesses around them and giving out money and giving out loans,” Brous said. “So I think it’s going to be dependent on Cornell or the big institutions that are going to think about how they want to help provide for the local economy and for the businesses.”
While Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 has called on State and federal officials to take action to help businesses and workers, he also told The Sun on March 12 that he wanted Cornell to take action: As the dominant force in Ithaca’s economy, he said, the University needs to step up to help the city during what could quickly become an economic crisis.
“I would hope that [Cornell officials] keep an eye as we move into the future on the impact,” Myrick said. “This could really affect Cornell when students return in the fall and half the retail stores in the Commons and half the stores and restaurants in Collegetown have closed.”