Cornellians now know the rules of the fall semester.
The University released its behavioral compact Wednesday afternoon, outlining the set of behavioral requirements that all students — on or off campus — must agree to follow for the fall semester. Measures include frequent testing, daily checks, reduced social gathering sizes and compliance to social distancing rules of the state and Tompkins County.
Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi alerted students that the behavioral compact was available in an email — around an hour after President Martha E. Pollack emailed the Cornell community, defending the University’s decision to reopen campus.
The four-page document is split into five parts: Health and Wellness; Social, Organizational and Recreational [activity]; In-person Instruction; Residential Life and Dining; and Travel and Guests.
Accessing the compact
Students can access and accept the compact through the Re-Entry Checklist, and it requires three steps, Lombardi said. To officially sign it — which must be done in order to register for classes — students must review a training course that explains Cornell’s policies and the reasoning behind them, pass a quiz on the material and then sign the written compact.
Breaking down the compact
Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur told The Sun that the compact provides insight into what the semester will look like on campus.
“The details of the compact are the blueprint, really, for what’s going to keep us safer as a community this year,” Pendakur said. “At a high level, the compact is a roadmap or blueprint for what it’s going to take to live as a campus during the pandemic.”
While administrators have been adamant about a hybrid semester, the University admitted it’s possible that in-person learning will not continue for the whole semester. Part of the agreement requires recognition that the University may have to transition to online classes.
“I understand that, if we, as a community, cannot adhere to the Compact and/or a serious COVID-19 outbreak occurs, Cornell may not be able to continue an on-campus experience, and we may be required to transition to a fully remote learning experience,” the compact read.
The University has remained quiet on what it would take for classes to be fully online again. Nearby, Syracuse University said classes would be completely virtual if more than 200 students contracted COVID-19. Pollack said in her latest email that the University anticipates anywhere from hundreds to over a thousand coronavirus cases during the course of the in-person fall semester.
Students have already seen many of the University’s health and wellness requirements, as they heavily resembled the requirements Lombardi outlined July 2. These requirements include wearing a mask, staying six feet away from others and quarantining if necessary.
New requirements in the list also mandate students to get a flu vaccine for the coming winter, and that they cough and sneeze into their elbows.
The behavioral compact mentions other measures like participation in the daily check, and providing an Ithaca address as well as emergency contacts in the re-entry Checklist, which will each be required for students who wish to spend the semester on campus.
Gatherings cannot exceed 30 or more people, and participants must maintain six feet of distance and wear a mask, according to the social, organizational and recreational section. The compact asks students to acknowledge that “drinking alcohol and using other drugs will increase my risk of engaging in risky behavior, needing medical treatment and/or being exposed to higher-risk contact with others.”
Concern arose in the spring over off-campus parties following Cornell’s decision to end in-person classes, when bars were seen packed in Collegetown. More recently, the Tompkins County Health Department reported that a July social gathering led to nine positive coronavirus cases. It is unclear whether Cornell students were involved in this event.
As for on-campus clubs and organizations, the compact said that activity must “focus on virtual engagement as much as possible.”
For in-person classes, students must comply with general distancing measures (assigned seats, wearing a mask and maintaining six feet of distance, among others) and any additional requirements imposed by professors. Students are also instructed to attend class virtually if they are told to isolate or if their Daily Check recommends not to attend class in-person.
Students must also sign to comply with dining hall regulations, and follow rules made by Cornell, Tompkins County and New York State regarding visitors and travel.
Lastly, the compact said that students should recognize they are still at risk of contracting COVID-19 — even if they fully comply with the compact.
“I acknowledge that, even with the mitigation steps taken by Cornell and my anticipated compliance with the expectations set forth above, I may be exposed to and contract COVID-19,” the compact concludes, in all-bold print.
Enforcing the compact
While Pendakur said that there is “a lot more to be designed” regarding enforcement of the compact’s rules, he noted an electronic reporting tool, student monitors for high-traffic parts of campus and the newly-formed Cornell Compact Compliance Team as ways the University will try to ensure compliance.
The CCCT will handle minor violations, Pendakur said, while the Office of the Judicial Administrator will take care of actions that are “repetitive, flagrant and operates with a huge disregard to community safety.” It is unclear who will make up the CCCT.
But Pendakur said that “the most powerful part of the enforcement model is the idea of social norms,” referring to students monitoring themselves, creating what the administration has referred to as a “culture of shared responsibility.”
“The single most powerful driver of the behavioral compact is students helping other students try and live differently during the pandemic,” he said.
The official introduction to the behavioral compact came in an email by Lombardi, which provided more detail to Pollack’s initial June 30 announcement that students will be welcomed back to campus in the fall.
During the past month, Cornell started implementing some of its plans for the fall. The University transformed part of the College of Veterinary Medicine into a COVID-19 testing laboratory and began searching for students to fill its COVID-19 Student Peer Health Ambassadors Program, a cohort of students who will advocate the University’s public health message.
The University has backtracked on some of its previous decisions. On July 30, Cornell said that it will no longer provide quarantine arrangements for on-campus students from states under New York’s travel advisory list. In an email announcement and town hall the next day, Lombardi urged these students to start the semester online and only return to campus once their state is removed from the list.
Lombardi noted in Wednesday’s email that Cornell will host a town hall on the behavioral compact Thursday at 6 p.m.
Read the behavioral compact below.