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The coming semester promises to be completely different than all that have come before.

July 16, 2020

Fall Reactivation Town Hall Recap: Orientation to Be Virtual, Students to Quarantine in Hotel Rooms Upon Arrival to Campus

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At a July 15 campus reopening town hall, administrators tried to field nearly 2,000 questions on topics ranging from academic policy to freshman orientation.

Since the June 30 announcement, many details on what the fall semester would look like still remain unclear. Now, administrators are offering a glimpse into the rules and planning initiatives that would be in place when thousands of students return to Ithaca in August.

Panelists included Ryan Lombardi, Zebadiah Hall, Gary Koretzky, Lisa Nishii, Jenny Loeffelman, Vijay Pendakur and Pat Wynn.


Cornell asks that students quarantine for 14 days and get tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus, but all will be tested upon arrival. Students who live in states impacted by the New York State travel ban, currently including California, Florida and Texas, will be required to return to campus on Aug. 17. For students coming from such states, Cornell has booked hotel rooms for them to quarantine and will provide food for them as well.

Students who plan to live on campus will be assigned a move-in date, time and location. Once they arrive, students will be tested and quarantined at a University residence hall or hotel until test results are available. If a student tests positive, then they will be in quarantine for a longer period of time.

Wynn, who is the Assistant Vice President of Student and Campus Life, encouraged parents to drop off their students and immediately leave Ithaca, because Cornell needs the hotel space to quarantine students. To ease the process of moving in without family or guest assistance, Wynn recommended that students take only two suitcases and a backpack to campus.

More information about the possibility of shipping belongings to campus before arrival will be available later in July, according to the Cornell COVID-19 and reactivation website. Pre-arrival shipping will be available through the Cornell Store and Big Red Shipping Storage. Items will be placed in student rooms before arrival if shipped before the deadline.

Due to fluctuating circumstances, including the frequently changing list of states that will be subjected to New York State quarantine guidelines, Lombardi, Vice President for Student and Campus Life, encouraged students and families to delay making travel plans for as long as possible.

Housing and Dining

Housing assignments will be available around July 24. To cancel housing without a fee, students must terminate their housing contracts before Aug. 10. According to Lombardi, students who return home at the beginning of Thanksgiving break will receive a 15 percent discount on housing and dining services, accounting for time not spent on campus. However, students who qualify to stay on campus for the full semester will still be charged the full sticker price.

The University is working to provide students on campus with mini-fridges to make storing dining hall takeout food easier, Wynn said. Takeout will be necessary for many students, because in-person dining hall capacity will be significantly reduced and available by reservation only.

While the University cannot help students break a lease, Wynn encouraged students to reach out to the Office of Off-Campus Living to find a sublet. Students who take classes online but live in Ithaca are expected to register their arrival and comply with testing requirements and other social distancing expectations.

Public Health Planning

The administration is making plans under the assumption that some people on campus will contract COVID-19.

“It is inevitable that there will be people on campus infected with the virus,” said Koretzky, who is the Vice Provost for Academic Integration.

According to Koretzky, the four pillars of Cornell’s public health strategy will be: education about COVID-19, spread mitigation measures such as social distancing, testing and continuous data collection. Cornell Health will recommend testing as needed, based on symptoms found from daily self-checks. While testing for infection will happen regularly, antibody testing will not be required.


Orientation will be almost entirely online, with the possibility of a few in person small groups, according to Loeffelman, Assistant Vice President of Student and Campus Life.

Orientation week will stretch from Aug. 26 to Sept. 2, but programming will continue through September. Programs will include webinars, Zoom events, and interactive options created by programs across campus like Cornell Chimes, the Cornell Botanic Gardens and the Johnson Museum.

The orientation schedule will be available in early August with a mix of required and optional programming, and students will have a chance to build their own schedule. Cornell Club send- off events and family orientations will also be virtual.

Student Disability Services Accommodations

Less documentation may be required to obtain disability accommodations, partly due to the difficulty of accessing a doctor for documentation during COVID-19, according to Hall, Director of Student Disability Services. Hall emphasized the importance of students in determining their own needs.

“We do accommodations from a civil rights, social justice approach,” Hall said. He encouraged anyone worried about accommodations this semester to visit the SDS website and get in contact with his office.

Course Roster/Registration Updates

According to Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, each course will either be taught entirely online, completely in-person until Thanksgiving or a hybrid format that could include rotational attendance. For in-person classes, seats will be assigned and all students will wear masks.

Before students leave for Thanksgiving, faculty will hold “semi-final exams.”

“These are in-person final exams,” Nishii said. “Exams can be given even if classes are online. This is very important to faculty, to be able to give in person exams even if their classes are online.”

Students awaiting pre-enrollment will have to wait a few more weeks before they can access a complete course roster, as the University is trying to take into account faculty member and graduate student preferences in determining the fall 2020 course modalities.

“Our hope is to have a list of courses and their modalities by the end of July, the time when they will be offered available a week later,” Nishii said. “The actual enrollment process will be a little while after.”

Nishii defended the 18 credit limit, citing student health concerns, but added it will be possible to petition to take more credits, especially for seniors that may need more than 18 credits to graduate on time.

Behavioral Expectations

Pendakur, dean of students, said that a Cornell Behavioral Compact will apply on and off campus, and that an online reporting tool to inform the administration of violations will help facilitate the enforcement of these rules. Cornell will form a compliance team to hold individuals and organizations accountable for violations — penalties could include suspension or expulsion, in more extreme cases.

No large events will be allowed on or off campus, and campus events must be registered with attendance lists kept for contact tracing purposes. Student organizations, including Greek organizations, may lose campus recognition if they violate the behavioral compact.