Dear Members of the City College Community,
This is, I'll say at the outset, a longer than usual memo, with several distinct sections. I hope you'll forgive the length and pay close attention to each distinct section. I wanted, first, to update you all on how the governor's new corona virus memo will change the way we operate at CCNY. I also want to use this memo as an opportunity to address some of the particular questions that we've been seeing with some consistency.
The governor's instructions require several things that we have already begun to do dramatic approaches to social distancing, a strong push to depopulate the campus first by moving instruction to distance learning formats, second by moving as much work as possible to a telecommuting format, and third by beginning to shut down some of the physical spaces of the campus. We now move further in those directions.
Let me first re-emphasize that there is no in person instruction on campus anymore. We moved from encouraging distance learning, to requiring it wherever possible, to prohibiting in person instruction. Those rules remain unchanged — even for laboratory and studio classes. If instructors had at some earlier point allowed students to come to an on-campus lab or studio, I am now strictly prohibiting that practice. Instructors may not immediately known how to teach a lab in a distance learning format — but we'll need to figure out what solutions to that dilemma we can devise. But nobody should be teaching now in a classroom with students.
Changes in Student Services
With some real regret, I am now curtailing some of the student services that we had been able to provide during this crisis, because we simply cannot insure an acceptable level of safety for students, faculty and staff if we continue to allow any point of campus to be a gathering point. We previously closed libraries, but now must also close the tech center, the Hoffman Lounge and other campus facilities. The only student services that will be provided in person and on campus will be the food pantry and (for a limited time) the distribution of connectivity technology to students, faculty and staff who have none at the moment and need it. More on that latter point further below.
We will keep the food pantry open for as long as we can. We are currently awaiting several shipments to restock our shelves and they are not now empty, but we have been encountering supply chain problems of late, for understandable reasons. For the foreseeable future, we will likely not have volunteers staffing the food pantry to support walk in clients. Rather, someone will be available to open the pantry door for anyone who needs access to it. To gain access Monday through Friday, call 212-650-8844 and someone will meet you at the pantry (located in the Hoffman Lounge). We are developing partnerships with community food pantries and, if necessary, will shift our operation to partnerships with these external friends.
We will continue to distribute laptops and tablets at the reservation desk inside of the NAC lobby, next to the information counter, to make sure that every student, staff and faculty members can teach, learn and meet remotely. However, we will be implementing measures to protect those handing out and picking up the devices. These measures will include distributing the devices via an RSVP system that controls the flow of people into the area, and arranging well-spaced lines outside of the building. We'll have more details of precisely how we will implement this program by Monday at the latest.
Apart from the food pantry in the Hoffman Lounge and the Reservation desk in the NAC Lobby, the NAC will be closed to anyone who doesn't have explicit permission to be there.
Our dormitories will continue to be open, but we are urging everyone who can leave them to do so. The dorms should be a last resort accommodation for students who have no place else to go. I know there are concerns about refunds to students who are leaving the dorms. I'll address that issue further down in this memo.
Restricting areas of service will allow us to still further close down areas of the campus, relieving security and facilities crews of the need to clean most campus areas. Anyone who for some reason is still coming to campus, even periodically (and there should be almost nobody in this category) should not expect their offices to be cleaned. Move garbage cans that need to be emptied to the hallway, police your own area, and let's relieve our custodial staff of as much risk as possible.
Some faculty and staff engaged in particular research activity will need access to their labs, and that will happen only with explicit approval and the notification of security personnel. I understand that there have been some miscues on Friday — where some people who should have had authorized access to labs were not permitted to enter buildings. We'll smooth that out over the weekend, and make sure that every building has a short list of strictly essential personnel that can gain entrance to specific buildings for specific purposes. In conformity with instructions from Provost Liss, all research that can be shut down will be shut down, and all labs that can be closed will be.
I want to be clear, and forgive the tone: I'm establishing these access restrictions to meet the requirements of a grave public health crisis, and none of us has the right to risk the lives of others by violating them. If you somehow gain unauthorized access to a restricted space on campus, I will view this as a serious violation of campus safety policy, and utilize the disciplinary machinery at my disposal to drive home the point.
As announced earlier, we are allowing any student who wishes to opt for the P/F grade this semester, and make the decision up until May 14th. The same applies to withdrawal without penalty. Two new points about this policy. First, rather than a P/F grade, it will probably be registered as CR/NCR — credit or no credit. Credit will give you credits toward graduation, but NCR will not reduce your GPA, you just wouldn't get the credit. (Note that this is a new provision, and it reverses something I said at several of our on-line town halls). Also, transcripts will have some marker — CUNY is figuring it out and it needs to be done university wide — that will explain CR grades for this semester as having been awarded during a time of massive disruption on campus, so it won't look like students simply didn't want to be graded. Remember, though, if you need to boost your GPA in your major or overall, a CR will not help you, so be careful and make that selection judiciously. If you have any questions, talk to an advisor.
I also know that many of you are worried that your major classes must not be taken on a pass/fail basis, or only so many P/F grades can be on your transcript. I address this issue in the next section.
I know that many of you — especially students--have particular questions about how the corona virus is going to impact your studies at CCNY. I don't at the moment have specific answers to all of these questions, but I can start to share with you the parameters of how we are approaching solutions — meaning, we don't know yet what the exact design of a policy will be, but we do know what we want to achieve and are putting the pieces together in order to get there. So, I'll address some of these issues in what follows. Please regard these answers as place-holders for a more involved and precise policy to follow. I'm listing them not because I think these are final or sufficient answers, but because I want our community to understand that we are aware that these issues exist and are working on a solution.
Let me start with a statement of college and university principles.
- No member of our community shall be subjected to undue health risks, and we will do whatever we can to define essential staff as narrowly as possible, and protect them as much as we can. Nor will we fail to meet our duties as a public institution working during a public health crisis.
- No students' progress toward graduation should be impeded because of measures we are forced to adopt as part of our response to the coronavirus.
- We will strive, in our new delivery formats, to continue to deliver an education that prepares students for the workforce.
- We will endeavor to make sure that students do no suffer any undue financial hardship because of their relationship with CCNY, or institutions linked to CCNY.
With those principles in mind, allow me to raise a few issues that we have not yet fully resolved, but are working on.
Pass Fail grades in the major: Many majors have prohibitions on counting pass/fail grades in the major. These are local college-based rules, but the university is working on a policy, specific to the current crisis, that would hold them in abeyance for the duration of this crisis. The measure may well require a vote of the Board of Trustees, and so it's not ready to be announced yet — and we are not sure what precisely it will look like. I will also ask our faculty deliberative bodies to use their local authority and develop a parallel policy for our campus.
Graduation: I have received several letters from students urging that I not cancel graduation — some that I postpone rather than cancel. I understand that graduation is a rich and powerful moment in your life as a student; it's about my favorite day of the year, and if necessary, I will mourn its suspension along with members of the class of 2020. We don't know what June will look like — or what august will look like. Graduation is a massive logistical endeavor, and even if the health crisis has passed by July, we will likely be working full time to restore the campus to normal operations throughout the summer. Moreover, students who are graduating this spring need some moment to officially mark their passage from student to graduate, when your degree becomes official, and I don't want that postponed past June. Finally, I must careful and gravely weigh the health concerns we all have against the disappointment that some of you will have in missing your day to celebrate. My duty here seems entirely clear to me: we must protect the health and safety of our community, and of the many friends and relatives who would want to gather at graduation. I'll announce a decision on graduation in the coming days.
Dormitory Refunds: On the face of it, it doesn't seem at all fair the students who have left the dorm because of the virus would have to pay for the duration of the semester. The dormitory, however, is managed by an independent company, and not subject to the authority of the college. Nevertheless, at the university level we are working on a policy that would provide financial compensation to students, and we would continue to urge the management company to take a more humane view of the financial burden imposed on students. You will hear more of this later.
Tuition Refunds: The idea of tuition refunds has been discussed at the university level — although in my opinion, all students should try as much as possible to avoid interrupting their progress toward graduation, and a refund would certainly involve withdrawing for the semester. With so many other elements of our society currently on hold, this may be a really good time to focus on getting through the semester. But that's advice, not policy. How and if the university will handle refunds is something that's under discussion, and probably will be decided at the university, not the campus level. If that changes, I will make sure you know about it.
Advising, Bursar, Registration Services: at this writing, each of these service offices are working to move as much of their service provisions on line as possible. Some functions still need to be executed in person, but we are developing ways to execute those services on a reduced schedule, to make sure that as few staff are needed to do this. As I've said earlier, we continue to develop ways to provide these services on line and at distance, and as time goes by, we will accumulate more and more ways to do this. For the moment, check office websites for new modes of obtaining services, and keep an eye out of the development, refinement and extension of these distance service modes.
Please allow me to repeat something you've probably heard many times already — but as we grow frustrated and tired of the constraints imposed by this crisis, it bears repeating. We have not, in living memory, seen anything like this. The disruption of our daily routines, stretched along an extensive and open-ended time horizon, is something that is most commonly associated with wars, and the US has thankfully been spared a war on our soil for over 150 years.
We are today called to a mobilization effort that recalls the great disruptions during the first half of the 20th Century — WWI, WWII and the Great Depression. We will be tested, and the balance between protecting ourselves and taking care of one another will be strained.
In these moments, we need to fall back on our core values, using them to guide our activities. I've been pretty open about how I regard the work we do on our campus: I believe that we are, day in and day out, engaged in an effort to make our society, better, more just and more humane. I think that the waves of graduates we send into the world, and the broad and diverse community we cultivate within our walls stand as examples of what we can be, as a people, when we stand together in a spirit of generosity, kindness, and a clear-eyed appreciation of the whole people.
I urge you all to take a moment and reflect on these values, and to remember that they are infinitely more essential in moments of crisis than when things are running smoothly. I am proud of our campus — of its history, of its mission, and of the men and women who, in normal times, walk its halls each day. I know I will be proud of our responses — individually and collectively — to the challenges we now face. Thank you, one and all, for keeping these essential ideas in mind over the next days and weeks.