The era of Zoom may soon be drawing to a close for some Ithaca students. According to Ithaca College President Shirley Collado, in-person instruction is set to resume on Oct. 5, about a month later than previously scheduled.
“By putting a stake in the ground for a [fall] start, we are giving our returning and new students the space they need to get ready for the upcoming year,” Collado said in a May 18 message to students. “This carefully thought-out time frame provides our faculty with the opportunity to fully prepare to deliver the strongest educational experience.”
According to Collado, despite the delayed start to the semester, the 2020-21 academic year will be a full one. Discussions are also being held to determine how, and when, collegiate sports might resume.
Collado’s announcement comes as colleges across the country grapple with how to balance the safety of students and staff with the crushing costs of remote learning.
Nearby Wells College said that, if it cannot reopen in the fall, it would likely have to close its doors permanently. Many students have claimed that they would rather take a leave of absence than endure another semester of remote coursework.
In an April 30 message to the Cornell community, Provost Michael Kotlikoff announced that the University would form four committees to determine how Cornell will navigate the uncertainties of the fall semester.
The Committee on Teaching Reactivation Operations is not expected to reach a decision before June 15, and some of the options floated by President Martha E. Pollack include reopening campus as normal, opening campus in phases or only letting some subsets of students return in the fall.
“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.”
It is not clear if there is any coordination between Ithaca College and Cornell. According to Collado, her decision reflects the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, American Council on Education, and the state’s New York Forward Re-Opening Advisory Board, of which Pollack is a member.
Owing to its rural location and early isolation measures, the Ithaca area has largely been spared the worst of COVID-19, reporting just a handful of new cases in recent weeks. Tompkins County, alongside the rest of the Southern Tier, was one of three Upstate regions allowed to begin reopening some non-essential businesses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced last week.
But public health experts warn that, barring an early vaccine, a second wave later this year could hit the United States even worse than the first.
“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield cautioned last month.
As a result of concerns that coronavirus is almost certainly here to stay, a number of major colleges striked a more pessimistic tone.
California State University — which, at nearly half a million students, is the nation’s largest four-year system — announced that nearly all of its classes would be taught online next semester. Likewise, the president of the University of California and Stanford University provost both conceded that at least “some degree of remote instruction” is likely.
Even so, Ithaca College — like the 64 percent of colleges nationwide that are “planning for in-person,” according to a survey — remains optimistic that its students will be able to return to South Hill.
“Ithaca College has weathered many storms since we began as a small music conservatory in 1892, and survival in the face of significant challenge is in the DNA of this place,” Collado wrote. “Throughout this particular storm, our community has continued to demonstrate creativity, grit, and solidarity as we’ve pushed forward and continued to serve our students.”