Alex Hale / Sun News Editor

Administrators met an audience of 3,000 registered guests to discuss the upcoming semester at the international student forum.

July 10, 2020

Cornell Reiterates Promise to Implement ‘Robust’ Testing, Denounces ICE Order in Virtual Town Hall

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The University provided more insight into the fall activation plan, specifically focusing on questions and concerns from the international community, in a Thursday town hall.

With 3,000 people registered for the webinar and about 1,000 questions submitted, the University panel discussed ICE’s Monday announcement, health and safety, the Study Away program, as well other facets of the fall reactivation plan. However, due to changing health guidelines and policies from Trump’s administration, some answers were limited.

The panel consisted of President Martha E. Pollack, Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Wendy Wolford, Vice Provost of International Affairs, Laura Taylor and Cindy Tarter from the Office of Global Learning and Dr. Anne Jones, medical director of Cornell Health.

Acknowledging the travel restrictions placed on the international community, President Martha E. Pollack said that the administration is “deeply disappointed and deeply frustrated by immigaton policies that are making it so difficult for our students to return.”

“In partnership with peer universities, we’ve been publicly stressing the critical importance of international students and international scholars, not only for Cornell, but for our region and indeed for the nation,” Pollack said in a pre-recorded video shown at the town hall.

University relays more information on Study Away program, criticizes ICE’s recent order
Due to travel restrictions, the University partnered with other institutions in select regions to give students unable to make it back to campus the opportunity to take in-person classes, while they are “fully enrolled” in online courses based in Ithaca. However, students had to make a quick decision to enroll in the program — known as Study Away — due to limited enrollment and a July 10 deadline.

“The ruling was unexpected. It was incredibly cruel we all thought and it really runs counter to everything that we stand for as an academic community,” Wolford said.

Although applications close July 10, Tarter said the University would announce any other eligible and available sites in the future for the Study Away program.

“Ultimately, as I said, we know that nothing can replace being here on campus and we hope that you will be again soon, whether in a few weeks or a few months,” Wolford said.

Students who apply must also meet eligibility requirements set by the partners. Considerations around funding and cohort options in their particular fields of study will also be factored into the acceptance decision.

Students accepted into Study Away are required to commit for the semester, or otherwise face a penalty if they withdraw from the program. Students can also reject the acceptance, according to Tarter, Office of Global Learning, as it is an optional program.

If the partner institution suspends in-person instruction, Tarter said the University will work closely with its partners.

“All of our partners will be able to shift to online learning in the event they have to suspend in person classes, and this would include any of the courses our Cornell students are enrolled in,” Tarter said.

Students enrolled in the Study Away program will still be considered a Cornell student even outside of the U.S., however the semester abroad “would not count towards the two semester requirement for [Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training]” which delays the ability for students to apply to future opportunities.

CPT and OPT are programs attached to F-1 visas that allow students to gain work experience in the U.S. for a limited period of time.

Students outside of the U.S., even in the Study Away program, for more than five months from August 13 – which is the end of emergency provisions – face F-1 visa revocation, meaning they will need to reapply and acquire a new I-20 to return next year, which incurs its own costs.

Incoming students will also  have the option to study remotely in their home country.

Even if a student would be able to come to the U.S later in the semester, their arrival to campus  is at the discretion of academic departments. However, U.S consulates are closed, making it difficult for students to acquire new visas.

The University considers the online period after Thanksgiving break to be a part of the hybrid semester, so international students should not be affected by ICE’s order, according to Taylor.

“We would consider that students enrolled in hybrid or in-person courses for the fall semester to be in status for the whole semester, and that the time after Thanksgiving would be a part of that hybrid course,” Taylor said.

Kotlikoff addresses tuition increase
Provost Michael Kotlikoff fielded a previously-submitted question about tuition for the coming semester, which is still increasing at its expected rate.

Cornellians will pay 3.6 percent more for schooling than they did last year, and the price tag will remain the same whether a student enrolls completely online or participates in hybrid-model learning.

“Unfortunately, we will not be able to reduce tuition,” said Kotlikoff. “I wish that we could.”

Regarding why the University is not reducing tuition, Kotlikoff cited the cost of creating an online format for classes, the Study Away program and the increased cost of financial aid that the University is expecting to provide for students.

University assures that there will be significant hygiene measures, “surveillance testing”
Kotlikoff ensured campus life will be open — with the exception of sports — under modifications to ensure the health and safety of the community.

To further ensure the health and safety of the community, Kotlikoff said the University will follow “surveillance testing,” a key component used to identify people who are positive before they become ill, which he said would be noninvasive.

Kotlikoff also stressed the importance of students following the behavioral compact, conducting daily health check-ins, testing individuals before they come to campus and when they arrive.

If students break the behavioral compact, they face the risk of losing certain privileges including access to certain facilities, and ultimately, students could be disenrolled from the University if they fail to comply with the health and safety regulations.

The behavioral compact is part of a prevention system, rather than a policing system, that will require the compliance of community members. Kotlikoff wants to “promote the message that this is a community solution” that requires “community participation,” facilitated by student monitors that will help account for those who do not adopt the rules of the behavioral compact.

Students will be tested weekly once back on campus
Although requirements are still changing, a two-week quarantine is mandatory for students entering from other countries and states with high rates of COVID-19, as per New York State regulations.

Jones discussed robust cleaning of dorms, dorm bathrooms and public places on campus that stringently will follow CDC guidelines to uphold hygiene and safety standards.

Jones said the CDC protocols “form the foundation” of the cleaning and hygienics standards that the University will use.

In these public areas, she mentioned a process called “super cleaning,” which is the continual cleaning of “high-touch surfaces.” Administrators will also try to reduce the number of these frequently touched surfaces on campus, through means like keeping doors open and entryways clear.

Modifications of teaching and living spaces will take place, as well as travel restrictions.

“There’ll be a comprehensive and robust surveillance program and we are in the planning process as we speak for rolling out that plan,” Jones said.

Another part of Cornell’s hygiene plan is contact tracing, which is the process of figuring out where an infected person has been and who they could have infected. This involves interviewing the infected person, who tells a health professional — in detail — their past locations.

After the interview, the contact tracer then tries to find who has been in the same places as the infected person, who had been in close contact. Contact tracers then inform these individuals and advise to get tested or to quarantine, depending on the situation.

Parents will only be allowed on campus, with the guidance of Cornell Health, if there is an emergency.

“We should ensure that there are opportunities for parents to come engage with their students of course maintaining social distancing and other requirements that need to be in place,” Jones said.

The University will conduct what Kotlikoff called “surveillance testing,” intended to track COVID-19 cases, symptomatic or not.

“Up until now — certainly in the United States — almost all of our testing has been testing for cause. That is testing after individuals have symptoms or display symptoms,” Kotlikoff said. “What we’re trying to do is identify individuals that are positive for the virus before they become ill and while they’re in a period of potentially spreading the virus.”

Accomplishing this goal will require “intensive testing of the student body on a weekly basis,” Kotlikoff said. Jones confirmed that student health insurance will cover the cost of the testing program.

Can Cornell handle a second wave of infections?
When asked about the potential of a second wave of COVID-19 coming to campus, Kotlikoff first mentioned the procedures put in place to try and prevent singular positive tests from turning into campus-wide outbreaks. Of these, he mentioned a “dashboard” for tracking infections and hospitalizations, the ability to change campus procedures if outbreaks are in certain areas (like dorms or dining halls) and efforts — led by Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi — to get students to comply with the Cornell behavioral compact.

Kotlikoff admitted that a second wave is a possibility and that the University would find ways to prevent it from happening.

“If we do have a second wave, and we cannot control it, our ultimate response would be to halt those in person classes, but it really would depend on where we’re seeing the infections. Are we seeing them in dorms? Are we seeing them in classrooms? Are we seeing them in Collegetown?” Kotlikoff said.

“However, we will also monitor this situation intensively during the fall season and make any adjustments that we need to, to make sure that we ensure the public safety and public health,” Kotlikoff continued.