Planning for the Fall Semester

I write to update you on the work we are doing to prepare for the Fall semester. As you know, there is considerable uncertainty around the pandemic status come September. Vaccinations are accelerating, a third vaccine has just been approved, and the infection rate in New York City is slowly dropping. We are optimistic that we will be in a much better place at the start of the Fall semester than we are now. But this is optimism, optimism amid considerable uncertainty. As we plan for the Fall semester, we are taking into account both our optimism that conditions will allow considerably more classes on campus, in person, and the uncertainty about how much we will be able to do on campus safely.

Working with Deans, Department Chairs, faculty, and student representatives, and other stakeholders, we are working to create schedule flexibility by planning for two scenarios, one in which we are limited by safety considerations to 25% occupancy in classrooms and one where are limited to 50% occupancy. If we cannot safely function at the lower of those two limits, then the Fall semester will look much like this Spring. In both of these scenarios, many classes will remain fully online. Classes are being assigned priority for on-campus classroom space depending on the demands of the pedagogy. With our limited occupancy assumptions, a classroom that nominally seats 40 students can only hold 10 or 20. Only a limited number of classes will be able to find space on campus in these two scenarios, and the remainder will need to be held online or in some kind of hybrid mode (partially on-campus, partially online). We are also planning to make campus space available to students who have back-to-back on-campus and online classes.

The return to campus for staff supporting divisions, departments, and other business functions of the College will be coordinated locally by the supervising unit-head, consistent with the College’s needs and the overall safety plan and occupancy limits.

The safety of the campus community is our top priority. In parallel with this schedule planning, we are working on a safety plan that dovetails with the class scheduling and will address cleaning, ventilation, COVID testing, and other safety protocols. We are sensitive to the fact that some in our campus community have special health concerns, either of their own or of people they live with or care for. We will do everything we can to provide flexibility for those for whom coming to campus creates special risks.

Nobody disagrees that it would be better if we could be more definitive now about the Fall semester. Unfortunately, that is simply not possible if we want to try to move back towards more on-campus, in-person classes, a move that we think is crucial to providing the best possible education for our students. By next month we will complete our planning process, and based on the most up-to-date projections for the fall will choose one of our scenarios for the Fall semester. As we approach the beginning of the semester, we may need to make adjustments as the reality of the pandemic status becomes clear. If it is safe, and non-disruptive to bring more classes back to campus at that time, we will do so. If we need to move more classes online to keep people safe, we will do that.

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