Sun file photo

The Class of 2021 and their families make their way across the Balch quad on freshman move-in day, August 18th, 2017. That class year now faces a drastically different senior year.

June 18, 2020

Cornell Aims to Make Announcement on Fall Semester in Early July

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Cornell University administration now expects to announce a decision on the state of fall semester instruction in early July.

President Martha E. Pollack wrote in an April 22 email that an announcement on the fall semester would not come before the three reactivation committees completed their work. The teaching reactivation and preparation for online teaching committees submitted their reports to the president on June 15. The research reactivation committee turned in its report on May 15, and the findings were publicized one week later.

“All committee reports and recommendations have been submitted and we hope to make an announcement about fall opening in early July,” Cornell’s COVID-19 FAQ page reads.

Pollack and the administration never clearly articulated a deadline for an announcement on the fall semester; committees were supposed to deliver the final reports to Pollack between June 15 and June 30.

At a May 27 Faculty Senate meeting, Dean of Faculty Charlie Van Loan said a decision would be made in one to two weeks after the June 15 deadline for committees to submit recommendations.

While Cornell has not published the teaching reactivation committee’s report, the committee looked into five potential scenarios for in-person instruction during the fall semester. Even if in-person instruction resumes, the end of the fall semester and beginning of the spring would most likely be completely remote.

In-person instruction would end by Thanksgiving break in order to de-densify the campus during flu season, while significantly curtailing travel in and out of campus.

Another scenario that became popular among students and faculty was starting the semester two weeks earlier — on Aug. 12 instead of Aug. 29 — than previously scheduled. Even though the calendar option is on the University Senate website, it remains unclear if the teaching reactivation committee seriously considered this option in its findings.

Faculty members have previously expressed reluctance to teach in-person classes in the fall, with many supporting entirely remote instruction. The University would implement a slew of measures from mask-wearing to widespread contact tracing if campus reopens in the fall, Provost Michael Kotlikoff said in a May 27 email to faculty. Students, faculty and teaching assistants that are in high-risk categories would be strongly advised not to attend any in-person classes.

Cornell did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Professors and campus officials at universities across the nation have questioned some administrations’ rush to announce fall semester plans, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

Prof. Susan M. Dynarski, public policy and economics, University of Michigan, wrote on Twitter that she believes “Colleges are holding out hope of in-person classes in order to keep up enrollments.” She added that if announcements of an online-only fall came now, students would turn to gap years instead, dooming university finances.

Syracuse University, SUNY Binghamton, Fordham University and New York University announced their intent to hold an in-person fall semester in May. All universities in the Ivy League stated that they intend to announce a decision on the upcoming semester in July.