Following President Martha E. Pollack’s announcement on June 30 that Cornell would be reactivating its Ithaca campus for the fall semester, the reopening plan was met with a steady stream of backlash from educators and Ithaca locals alike. However — despite the criticism, the uptick in COVID-19 cases in Ithaca and the many new virus epicenters that have emerged throughout the country — Cornell has stood by its plan.
While University administrators continue to affirm Cornell’s commitment to in-person learning for the Fall of 2020, key changes, demonstrative of a lack of preparation and a loosening grasp on campus public health measures, are being made.
Initially, quarantine accommodations for students moving into on-campus housing was provided as a part of Cornell’s reopening plan. However, less than a month before students are set to return to campus — and after leases have been signed and plane tickets have been booked— this service will no longer be provided.
Early Thursday evening, Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice President Ryan Lombardi co-released a statement announcing, among other things, that Cornell would no longer be able to supply quarantine housing to students returning to Ithaca from states under the New York State travel advisory. This travel advisory includes 34 states, home to over 5,000 Cornellians.
Students returning from these states will now be required to make their own quarantine arrangements in Ithaca or in a state not currently under the New York State travel advisory. And students who are unable to quarantine for 14 days in either of these manners are expected to begin their courses online until their respective states are removed from the travel advisory.
Although Cornell is allowing affected students to request an exemption from this rule due to personal hardship, the University’s decision is concerning and suggests that students are returning to a campus that is not as prepared as they were led to believe.
Such a last-minute announcement will inevitably lead to undue financial hardship for students as they are forced to quickly book hotel rooms and short-term rentals. Some, given the extended deadline for on-campus housing cancellation and the newfound need for an adequate quarantine space, will choose to pay exorbitant rent in Collegetown to escape on-campus housing.
Further, this decision also has the potential to induce more students to sidestep public health ordinances in order to avoid inconvenience.
A large part of the University’s reactivation plan — which is based on modeling conducted by Prof. Peter Frazier, operations research and information science — relies on the fact that Cornell can, to an extent, control its population. Yet, now, the University is giving up this control. While extended information about the revisions in question haven’t yet been communicated, it is highly unlikely that Cornell will be able to keep track of the geographical whereabouts of all of its affected students.
Finally, and perhaps most troublingly, Cornell’s passing of the quarantine torch to its student body forebodes dark times on The Hill.
Students, parents, faculty, staff, Ithacans and administration members are putting their trust in Cornell, a trust based on repeated affirmation that the University was prepared for COVID-19 infections and had the capacity to take care of its community in this unprecedented time. While only a fraction of students have returned to Ithaca, Cornell is already communicating that they do not have the capacity to be flexible, and low-income students will bear the brunt of the cost. While it is expected that campus operations will be ever-evolving in relation to the pandemic, students’ arrival preparations are too pertinent to campus safety to be changed at such a late date without raising serious concern.
As students, we are forced to remain optimistic this semester will exceed our expectations. But now more than ever, as an incredible amount of new responsibility regarding virus spread is held by the student body, we must ensure that we act as if our lives — our friends’, our professors’, our community’s lives — depend on it. Cornell, already, is not holding up their end of the bargain; we have to pick up the slack.
Editor’s note: Register for Cornell’s town hall on the matter on Friday at 12:30 p.m. EDT here.
The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage, other columnists and advertisers.