Michael Wenye Li / Sun Staff Photographer

Provost Kotlikoff sent the University's most recent COVID-19 update on April 30.

May 3, 2020

Kotlikoff: Fate of the Fall Semester Still Unclear

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The fate of the fall semester has not yet been determined, but the administration has taken action to try and find an answer. Here is what they have most recently told the Cornell community.

In an email sent to the Cornell community on April 30, Provost Michael Kotlikoff gave the most recent update, addressing the challenges that COVID-19 has caused in the University’s plans to reopen campus for the fall semester.

[Read Kotlikoff’s full email here.]

Kotlikoff’s message came eight days after an email sent by president Martha E. Pollack on April 22, where she laid out the University’s plan to assess COVID-19’s impact on the fall semester and an eventual decision on how the semester will be conducted.

Along with reporting that Cornell now expects to lose upwards of $210 million this fiscal year due to coronavirus, Pollack wrote that four committees were created to address different aspects of campus life and plan for the fall 2020 semester.

Kotlikoff chairs one of these committees, the Committee on Teaching Reactivation Operations, which, according to Pollack’s email, will determine how — and if — Cornell’s 13,000 students return to Ithaca.

“Current and newly admitted students alike are wondering what the fall semester will entail in a time of continued social distancing,” the provost wrote. “As we engage in detailed planning, we are very mindful of the ways in which residential experiences are a hallmark of campus life and provide students with crucial opportunities for formative personal growth.”

Some scenarios mentioned in Pollack’s email were reopening campus as normal, opening campus in phases or only letting some subsets of students return in the fall.

Although Kotlikoff doesn’t explicitly mention these, he does cite New York State guidelines “to reopen by region” as something the University is paying attention to.

He also mentioned that the committee is taking into account Cornellians that are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and international students that may potentially have heightened difficulty entering the U.S.

The Committee on Teaching Reactivation Operations plans to have its recommendations made between June 15 and June 30.

Read: Here’s When Cornell Has Committed to Making COVID-19 Decisions

The uncertainty of the pandemic’s future is what makes definitive decision-making difficult, according to Kotlikoff.

“We remain hopeful that working with public health and other scientific experts, we will be able to resume campus operations and welcome students back to our campuses for the start of the fall semester,” Kotlikoff said. “However, it is simply too soon to make that guarantee.”

The University also plans to work with public health officials to determine a testing protocol for “testing and monitoring” of the virus that will allow in-person instruction to resume.

“Even when we reopen our campuses, the virus will likely remain a part of daily life and social distancing measures will need to remain in place until that threat passes,” he wrote.