Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

In the five scenarios the Teaching Reactivation Committee released on Friday, each one includes some form of online learning.

May 24, 2020

Committee Releases Range of Scenarios for In-Person Fall Semester, Reflecting a New Normal

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Cornell released a list of different scenarios on Friday that give a glimpse as to how the fall semester could play out, showing that life on campus won’t return to normal during the coronavirus pandemic.

First published on the University Faculty website on Friday, the Teaching Reactivation Committee outlined six possible scenarios for the fall semester. Starting May 25, students, faculty and staff can leave comments on the six proposals. The University Faculty website stressed that none of the options were final.

“First, NOTHING has been decided,” the website read. “Chances are, the chosen calendar will likely involve some mix of the ideas that are portrayed across the library of options below. Second, this is not a referendum. It is a search for good calendar ideas and insights.”

Online learning is present in all six scenarios, making it likely that a hybrid option of in-person and online classes would take place if campus reopens in the fall.

The first scenario is a completely online fall semester, while another scenario includes resuming classes on campus in August and wrapping up the semester online after Thanksgiving. In this option, the spring semester would be online until mid-March.

Another option the committee is looking into is starting the fall semester on Sept. 6, after Labor Day. With this option, there would be a “final-exam-like” week right before Thanksgiving break, and then the rest of the fall semester would be online. The spring semester would start online at the end of January, but would be on-campus in early March.

The plan to send students home by Thanksgiving break is similar to other colleges, like the University of Notre Dame, Rice University and Syracuse University. But, it still remains unclear how colleges in the U.S. plan to conduct classes in the spring.

The last two options split the fall semester into sub-semesters. In one scenario, the first sub-semester will take place on-campus after Labor Day, and end with a final exam period in late October. The second sub-semester will then be online after Thanksgiving. For the 2020 to 2021 academic year, 21 weeks would be on-campus and nine would be online.

For the other sub-semester option, fall is split into one 11-week semester on campus and a four-week online semester. With the on campus semester, students can take in-person finals, whereas the latter permits students to take only one course online.

The Faculty Senate will discuss the five scenarios over Zoom on Wednesday.

Ashley He / Sun Staff Photographer

The Faculty Senate will discuss the six scenarios over Zoom on Wednesday.

The announcement of fall semester scenarios comes as Cornell is figuring out how to safely reopen. On April 22, President Martha E. Pollack said in an email that the University established three committees — two are looking into reactivating in-person instruction as well as research and operations. The other committee is examining how to improve the fall semester if it is completely online.

Students previously expressed worries that they would be unable to connect with professors and lose out on the college experience if the fall semester were to be online. Some even said that they would consider taking a gap year or a semester off until life returns to normal.

In the April 22 email, Pollack said that many questions still surround the fall semester.

“Underlying all of these and many more questions is the reality that any emergence from complete shutdown carries risk,” Pollack said. “Until there is an effective treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19, every decision we make regarding in-person campus activity will require us to accept and tolerate some degree of that risk.”

Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Lisa Nishii are spearheading the Teaching Reactivation Committee, which comprises faculty and two students, S.A. president Joe Anderson ’20 and Rebecca Harrison ’14 grad.

Other faculty members include Prof. Kim Weeden, sociology, who conducted a study that went viral on the feasibility of colleges reopening in the fall, and Dean of Faculty Prof. Charlie Van Loan, computer science.

Nearby, colleges like Ithaca College and Binghamton have announced their intent to reopen. Ithaca College said it would reopen campus by Oct. 5, while Binghamton plans to reopen on Aug. 26.

In the Ivy League, no schools have made a definitive statement on the fall semester, with many expecting to roll out more detailed plans in late June or early July. Pollack said that a decision on the fall semester would be made sometime from mid to late June.

Cornell’s governing bodies will discuss the reopening scenarios soon. The Faculty Senate is slated to discuss the six scenarios at its May 27 meeting, and the teaching reactivation committee has until June 15 to report its findings to Pollack.