Committee on Teaching Re-Activation Options

Members
Professor Shorna Allred (Natural  Resources) is the Faculty Senate’s representative.

Comments and suggestions can be posted below. Totally anonymous unless you share your identity in the posting itself.


Charge

The committee should begin by identifying and formulating recommendations about the criteria to be used in making the determination about how and when to re-activate the campus for teaching (see, for example, the guidelines being developed at state, local, and national levels).

They should next identify a range of options for re-activating the campus for teaching this fall, e.g.,

  1. full re-activation in late August;
  2. delaying re-activation by one or two months;
  3. phased re-activation with students arriving in waves;
  4. re-activation only for a subset of students (e.g., seniors and/or graduate and professional students, with other undergraduates online until the spring);
  5. and so on. Note that there are variations within each of these to consider, for example, if we had a delayed start, would we get rid of the winter break and run classes through January? Or are there other academic calendar changes that should be considered (e.g. shortened semester with minimal breaks to avoid/prevent travel

The committee should then use the identified criteria and options to frame answers to the questions below, as well as any other questions that they determine are significant. They should make recommendations to the president, noting both the advantages and disadvantages of each option, not later than June 15. They should also provide intermediate updates to the cabinet every other week.

Questions to be addressed by the subcommittees.

Federal Guidelines  for reopening.

 

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46 thoughts on “Committee on Teaching Re-Activation Options

  1. As a current undergrad student, I am unable to complete another semester online away from campus. My living environment outside of Cornell is not conducive to learning from unstable internet to family disputes. Furthermore, it is not the experience I am willing to pay for as Cornell already stated they will not be reducing tuition costs. If there is no on campus activity, I will most likely be taking a leave of absence. I am open to a hybrid system with in person and online classes where students are able to stay on campus. I looked over the calendar options for the 2020-2021 academic year and was surprised to see that none involved starting the semester earlier. I think that Ithaca and the Tompkins community are in a good place right now and it is absolutely crucial to finish the semester before flu season starts in the fall. I know Ithaca’s mayor has said that college students are crucial for the local economy. I do not recommend putting the economy above life, but it is worth considering. I am also thinking of students that depend on financial aid to cover housing and meals without that money they may not be able to afford to live somewhere else and study. If Cornell takes proper precautions (testing, contact tracing, isolation, providing PPE) I believe having students back in the fall is the most beneficial for all parties involved. Therefore, I propose the following calendar options for Fall 2020.

    Option A:
    Move in Dates: August 10-16
    Classes: August 17- November 12
    Study Period: 13-15
    Finals: November 16-23
    Option B allows for students to have a break between summer session and fall session while giving ample time for RA, Dining, and Housing staff to move-in in August and accommodates those with internships that go until mid-August. This option is a 14-week semester which meets the minimum requirements. It also has equal days not including holidays expect Friday will have one less day total.

    Option B:
    Move in dates August 3-9
    Classes August 10-November 10
    Study Period November 11-13
    Finals November 14-21
    Move out November 21-25
    If more academic school days are needed, the move out period could be shortened as most students will be moving out after their last final and not on the last move out day. This is a 15 week semester which is above the minimum requirement of 14 weeks per semester and the days are distributed fairly even. Monday and Tuesday have 1 more day than Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, this could be evened out with short breaks like Labor Day which falls on a Monday.

    Both options A and B would mean the whole semester is completed before thanksgiving. This also reduces the amount of overlapping time where both Cornell students and Ithaca College students will be in Ithaca. This calendar allows international students to be in one place without having to purchase multiple international flights. It limits breaks to limit student travel. It allows for educational continuity without burdensome switches and disruptions. Finally, it keeps students on campus which is crucial for the Ithaca economy. A similar calendar set up for the spring would work as well. Both options can be done with courses online, in person, or a combination of both. It also allows for a longer winter session that could be used for online classes or other academic accommodations.

  2. * Re-opening on-campus is a must, especially if you consider the students’ mental health. The undergraduate students desperately want and need to be on campus. Cornell owes it to them. If some (probably few) students prefer not to attend, then that will be their personal choice.
    *Please also consider the thousands of students who have signed 12-month leases for off-campus housing. Will Cornell help them get out of their leases?
    *Students are the lowest risk group for Covid-19. Life is full of risks. People die of the flu and car accidents every day. So we should all live in paranoia and never leave our homes?

  3. There is really only one safe option for the fall. That is total online education.
    Any other alternatives have risk associated with them to the students, faculty, staff, and the community at large.In addition, the chances of making all of the changes necessary including social distancing in classes, universal testing, meal distribution etc. would be nearly impossible to complete by the Fall, not to mention modification of students’ behavior.
    If Cornell is truly exceptional in its education, we should be able to create more meaningful and comprehensive on-line programs that would differentiate us from other Universities i.e. providing 3-D virtual glasses so students can participate in labs, etc.
    The only reason to resume in person classes in the fall is $$$$. So it get backs to what Governor Cuomo asked and I ask this to the administration. How much is a life worth?

    1. Luckily we have some good rules of thumb for that. A number of OECD public health systems value a life at approximately $40,000 for a year of life in full quality of health. Thus, working from that we can quite easily get a ballpark figure of what a typical COVID death was worth.

  4. I believe that most Cornell students would agree that online learning is not a comparable experience to that of in-person instruction. Personally, I think that Cornell should model the plans proposed by universities of similar tier and sized such as Notre Dame and UC San Diego, both of which have opted for opening early and concluding instruction by Thanksgiving break — followed by remote finals. This approach seems to be the most coherent in terms of preventing an outbreak on campus (due to holiday travels and possible second wave) and optimizing every student’s learning experience. Additionally, each class should aim to be broadcasted in an online medium to allow students with compromised immune systems or other safety concerns to attend classes remotely. I think that looking forward we should prioritize creating a dynamic learning environment that offers *choice* to students. I also think that making a premature prediction about the Spring 2021 semester is unnecessary given the ever-changing nature of the pandemic and what information is available. I would really urge the administration to push for in-class instruction where possible, in-person communication is really key to a thriving and vibrant academic environment which I think every Cornellian deserves.

  5. I would like to thank all the efforts made to ensure that we as students and faculty get to voice our opinions and concerns regarding the 2020 Fall and 2021 Spring semesters. I understand the effects that online learning could have on the Ithaca economy as well as the employees at Cornell, but I don’t see how Cornell can ensure safety on campus, specifically in residential halls and dining facilities around campus. No one knows how each person will respond to the virus, and I feel that many students as well as faculty would be at high risk if all students are permitted to return to campus. I think it would be a good idea to have an online option available to those who can’t return due to certain circumstances. There should be some plan made in case the virus does spread around campus. I don’t feel safe returning to campus, because in the end, I don’t see how social distancing can be maintained on all parts of the campus. If things can be done remotely for one more semester I feel that would be best; however, if in-person instruction did resume, I would hope that every precaution is taken to preserve the safety and well-being of the Cornell community.

  6. How about an option where students are invited back to campus but not required to come back. Lectures would either be delivered live (while being recorded to share with students not on campus) or they would be delivered online. Small group discussions (in larger classrooms) to supplement. Professor could Zoom in to that. The lab issue is a solvable problem. Identify a subset of key experiments; students complete these in smaller groups to accommodate social distancing guidelines and use non-lab time for data analysis and interpretation. Create small cohorts of students (identified by areas in dorm, or teammates, etc ) which becomes their social bubble. We are taking out large loans to afford Cornell for our incoming freshman and we will want to look for an option to defer (and take classes at our local school instead) if Fall is 100% online.

  7. One more consideration: In the wake of the recent announcement that a Green Star employee tested positive, local authorities asked *everyone* who shopped at the store for 2 days to get tested AND self-quarantine at home for 14 days. If this policy is maintained in fall, even occasional cases in the community (especially if they affect shopping and social hubs as well dining halls) will lead to large portions of the student body, staff, and faculty self-quarantining at any given point in time. The logistics would be daunting to keep track which class is temporarily moving online as faculty are quarantined, which buildings are closed for deep-cleaning, which students are missing class as they’re quarantining … I just don’t see how the benefits of occasional instances of in-person instruction could make up for the constant disruptions.

  8. Dear Senatorial Colleagues,
    As we consider the challenging question of resumption of classes, there is the case of laboratory classes that we should consider carefully in our deliberations because it entails enhanced risk factors. Laboratory classes often involve small groups of students working closely together at stations where the experimental exercises are conducted. The instructors circulate from station to station. This might go on for the protracted period of an entire half day. Maintaining social distance is ergo almost impossible if the courses are taught as we have historically done so. Furthermore, the equipment and experimental procedures would require repeated manipulation of common equipment by many hands, so there is further enhanced risk of disease communication. All of these things contribute to heightened risk of viral transmission. It should also be part of this calculus that there are four major factors potentially relevant to the faculty that significantly enhance risk for morbidity and mortality: 1. gender, where males have higher risk, 2. age, where those over 60 have enhanced risk and those over 70 have even further enhanced risk, 3, a preexisting medical condition of asthma, and 4. a preexisting cardiac condition. Hence some instructors are at significantly heightened risk of contracting disease. Instructors going from station to station would therefore constitute a potential means of transmission to all of the students in the course. While we all wish for the normal resumption of instruction at our university, we must proceed with caution and forethought to not endanger our students as well as their instructors, the latter which could further amplify risk to students. While disease is apparently waning somewhat in this state, the danger of a second wave more disastrous than the first should not be dismissed. Even if it might militate against the pecuniary interests of central administration, the wellbeing of our students should be paramount to us as faculty in our deliberations.

  9. There have been a lot of arguments about the importance of the college experience, but what kind of college experience can we deliver while maintaining social distancing? And will the cost of providing that experience make any sense?
    We should also be mindful of the community around us. As a Cornell Faculty, I am incredibly privileged as I can do many of my duties at home. This is not the case for many in our community. Do we really want to force them out of work again by bringing a large number of students back in the area?
    The way forward is to lead by example, demonstrating that we can fulfill our mission remotely and, in the process, set forth a new level of remote teaching experience to improve our global outreach.

  10. > I wanted to let you know about the announced fall plans of two universities in San Diego (where I am sheltering in place), in case these might be useful input to the Teaching Reactivation Options committee on which you are serving. The University of San Diego is planning to start earlier than it usually does, end the semester at Thanksgiving and not resume until late January or February. This is to minimize travel of the students during the semester. It will also put fewer students in dorms and offer a mix of online and in class courses. The University of California San Diego plans to offer mostly in class courses, but will still have many online courses for students who can’t be in La Jolla. UCSD plans to offer monthly testing to all 65,000 of its students, faculty and staff. Currently, they have 5000 students in residence and they are offering them voluntary testing.

  11. As an instructor in a large class (BioEE1610, Ecology & Environment, 250 students), I have several questions and thoughts about the idea that large classes continue to be taught remotely.

    1) I am aware of at least one published study, conducted by faculty at Cornell, indicating that participating in large classes is not a greater risk of spreading covid19 than is participating in other classes and in the general life of a student; so why single out large classes to be taught remotely?

    2) we teach BioEE1610 in a hybrid model, where all students are in large lecture for 2 periods per week and then spend 1 period with a TA in a group of 10 to 12 students; would the plan be to have both lectures and the smaller sections taught remotely, or could the sections be held in person?

    3) currently, we are recording our lectures, rather than presenting them live; would this be OK if the course were taught remotely in the future, or would the University want the lectures to be given live and remotely? Note that there are a lot of issues associated with this rather subtle difference;

    4) BioEE1610 has been one of the more progressive classes on campus over the past half dozen years using interactive teaching approaches in our large lectures. This has been very well supported by grants and other funding from the Arts College. We are doing our best to continue some aspects of this in our virtual lectures this spring. BUT we simply cannot do so as well, in part because in-class group activities involving small and larger groups of students are a critical part of our approach. I raise this issue, as not all large classes are equal in terms of what is lost in having them taught remotely. Is anyone considering distinction among large classes?

  12. Are we going to have enough beds and ventilators for the entire population of undergraduates, graduates, professors if there is a second outbreak? If not, how can we consider reopening?

      1. The risk is that students contract (perhaps asymptomatically) and spread to community members, staff and instructors. Cayuga county has nowhere near the medical resources (ICU beds and ventilators) to manage a large outbreak.

  13. 1. Financials: Reopening is probably financially necessary for the university, but in person is probably not necessary and is likely more expensive for students in terms of travel, changes if return home becomes necessary, and refunds in housing/board must occur and other parallel expenses to this term..

    2. Learning environment: There is no doubt that in person peer interaction, discussions with faculty in class and informally are best for intellectual, social and personal development, but we need to also consider another method and metric for higher education as we move into a more digital future overall–with or without the pandemic. The pandemic is just pushing the future of learning into the present. Let’s think about how to creatively construct digital learning environments, and new norms and expectations for the college experience.

    3. Health and welfare: Many comments already written highlight important points re: health and welfare of students and faculty. If in person instruction occurs, faculty over 60 and/or with pre-existing health issues should be given the option to teach remotely until there is a safe vaccine and adequate treatment to ensure their safety. For students who share health and immune-compromise–a remote version of classes should be provided–even if it is to virtually join via zoom (or other platform) an in-person class should in-person instruction resume.

    4. Future: In terms of preparing for the future, work places will likely remain closed, or if open, many employees will continue work from home. Many faculty work from home often. Industry will continue work from home until it recovers financially. Students who learn remotely will be better prepared for WFH workplaces.

    5. Technology: Students are adaptable, and tend to embrace and know technology well, and are willing to experiment with it. Of course, we must recognize issues of time zones, bandwidth, access to technology, learning abilities and other aspects of technology that create or perpetuate inequalities. We must find creative ways to compensate for these things with financial scholarships, changes to the ‘standard’ work hours of faculty and grad teaching/research assistants, or other modifications.

    This is not a comprehensive list, but rather just some first thoughts about this important issue. Thank you for opening up the discussion.

  14. An option not mentioned in the possible scenarios above:

    Start classes online on August 27, and after 8 weeks, students arrive and continue classes on campus.

    Reasoning for this option:
    Starting online guarantees that we will not lose the whole semester. If there is indeed a second wave of the virus and the administration deems it unsafe to bring students to campus mid-October, then they can decide to continue online for the entire semester. However, if all goes well, students will feel at ease having a set date to arrive on campus in mid-October. This option also minimizes changes to the academic calendar which is much less stressful for everyone.

    For arguments sake, if the administration decided on the other proposed scenario of starting on-campus Fall classes 1 to 2 months later, this could coincide with the predicted second wave of the virus, and we could end up sending everyone back home again. Additionally, starting this late means taking away winter break—time students need to lower stress levels and be emotionally ready to start the Spring semester.

  15. I suggest that the committee consider the possibility of keeping
    the campus and campus buildings closed except to those who
    have either passed through a supervised two week quarantine period or
    have tested negative for CV19. Clearly this would difficult to
    arrange for the returning undergraduate and graduate student populations
    but might be easier than letting everyone return and then attempting
    to mitigate risk and detect and isolate infections.

  16. In the spirit of open dialogue for an informed decision, would the university share with the faculty the ballpark estimates on the financial impact related to various scenarios (online instruction vs students back to campus)

  17. Hope the work goes well on the committee. I know a number of colleagues from various areas of the campus seem to feel no in person teaching until there is a treatment or vaccine.

  18. The future of the pandemic remains uncertain and there is much that we won’t know in time to make these recommendations. I hope that the committee will establish a set of principles for decision-making in these circumstances, and I would like to propose some.
    – We need to prioritize the safety of students, faculty, and staff. We do not know – and due to privacy laws, will not be able to know – how many of our constituents are at higher or highest risk. We should not adopt ableist perspectives, assuming that students are young and therefore not at risk, or that only older faculty and staff are at high risk. Many statements circulating in the media about reopening suggest that “some level of risk” will be inevitable, but do not assess who will bear that risk, how the risk is socially distributed, and which groups will be most affected by it.
    – We need to safeguard human rights, freedoms, and work to minimize inequality. The pandemic has exacerbated inequality throughout society, including in higher education. Reopening should not further exacerbate these effects and should indeed work to ameliorate them.
    – We need to consider the impact on those people who will be placed in difficult or impossible situations due to their health, financial, or other circumstances. Individuals should have the right to determine the acceptable level of risk to themselves.
    – We need to continue to analyze existing and emerging information and scientific evidence. This includes public health experts’ recommendations, and analyses of existing reopening scenarios (both national and international) and their public health effects.
    – We should not be guided by the usual peer dynamics: what other Ivy Leagues are planning to do should not matter as much as known public health effects of reopening universities. So should analyze the unfolding experiments with reopening; universities. For instance, some German universities have infrastructure similar to Cornell’s and are slated to reopen in May; we will be able to learn from their experiences.
    Thank you.

  19. We should balance the health and safety risks in decisions towards in-person teaching against the health, safety, and opportunity costs of maintaining virtual-only teaching.

    1) Teaching virtually has been among the least equitable paths for student achievement (the worst being not teaching at all). Much of our disability services, hands-on labs, and experiential opportunities can’t be replicated virtually. This is a major component of our value proposition that drives the tuition we charge, Despite the great skill and knowledge of our teaching faculty, we can’t replicate this Cornell Experience.

    2) Planning with a requirement for zero/few cases to maintain reopening is a fool’s errand. I propose that goals must be geared towards a) stratifying risk and activity corridors of students, staff, and professors, and b) management of caseloads with a goal of prompt identification and treatment of cases that are more than mild. The data shows that most of the serious+ cases were of patients with underlying conditions that did not seek/receive treatment for many days with clear symptoms. The CDC data is that for ages less than 24 the chance of dying from COVID-19 is 0.11%, several fold less than from influenza or pneumonia alone (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm). It is much more likely that compromised faculty and staff will succumb first. As a faculty member that is immunocompromised, I would not want our goals to preserve the health of the few faculty over the educational/personal development of the next generation. If anything, I am easier to protect/monitor than 100 students. Perhaps we (faculty/staff) should be more the targets of monitoring/testing since the students are paying our salaries to deliver their critical experience.

    3) Though not guaranteed for life, the data from other similar viruses supports that sufficient antibody titers confers resistance for several years, definitely the duration of a school year. This might be a more informative and cost-effective feature to pursue, including for post-infected people to confirm resistance as a means of releasing from protected environments.

    4) There are reports that infrared camera scanning can identify temperatures within 1F, and when implemented in plenums/entryways and walkways for broad screening generated sensitivity for secondary investigation. Contact tracing and mapping via phones/pagers have also shown success. I agree both of these sound potentially draconian, but given the consequences of strict mitigation students may likely be willing to trade informed consent and loss of some freedoms for gaining of much greater freedoms and possibility of social connection. They may even contribute financially to this effort if it would guarantee their access to the university and the security they provide.

    Good luck to these committees!

  20. I’ve read the prior documents. We may have to balance the health and safety risks incumbent in decisions towards in-person teaching against the health, safety, and opportunity costs of virtual-only teaching. Some ideas:

    1) Teaching virtually has been among the least equitable paths for student achievement (the worst being not teaching at all). Much of our support services, hands-on labs, and experiential opportunities can’t be replicated virtually. This is a major component of our value proposition that drives the tuition we charge, Despite the great skill and care of our faculty and staff, we can’t replicate this complete Cornell Experience.

    3) Planning with a requirement for zero/few cases to maintain reopening may be a fool’s errand. I propose that goals could be geared towards a) stratifying risk and activity corridors of students, staff, and professors, and b) management of caseloads with a goal of prompt identification and treatment of cases that are more than mild. The data shows that most of the serious+ cases were of patients with underlying conditions that did not seek/receive treatment for many days with clear symptoms. The CDC data shows that for ages less than 24 the chance of dying from COVID-19 is 0.11%, several fold less than the same ages dying from influenza or pneumonia alone (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm). It is much more likely that compromised faculty and staff will succumb first. As a faculty member that is immunocompromised, I would not want our goals to preserve the health of the few faculty over the educational/personal development of the next generation. If anything, I am easier to sequester/manage than 100 students. Perhaps we (faculty/staff) should be more the targets of monitoring/testing since the students are paying our salaries to deliver their critical experience.

    3) Though not guaranteed for life, the data from other similar viruses supports that sufficient antibody titers confers resistance for several years, definitely the duration of a school year. This might be a more informative and cost-effective feature to pursue, including for post-infected people to confirm resistance as a means of releasing from protected environments.

    4) There are reports that infrared camera scanning can identify temperatures within 1F, and when implemented in plenums/entryways and walkways for broad screening generated sensitivity for secondary investigation. Contact tracing and mapping via phones/pagers have also shown success. I agree both of these sound potentially draconian, but given the consequences of strict mitigation students may likely be willing to trade informed consent and loss of some freedoms for gaining of much greater freedoms and possibility of social connection. They may even contribute financially to this effort if it would guarantee their access to the university and the security they provide.

    5) Whatever opening strategy is pursued, the economic consequences to the surrounding Tompkins County community should also be considered. We rely mutually on each other for economic and social benefits.

    I trust these committees will develop a responsible but forward thinking plan to lead this next phase of the new reality.

  21. As a high risk person toward Covid-19 infection due to age and high blood pressure, I have my serious concern about my safety during the last in classroom teaching in this Fall. Covid-19 virus can spread everywhere, even the air conditioning or heating outlets in classrooms. I sincerely hope the President’s committees are aware of the high risk faculty like myself potential exposure to Covid-19 virus in classrooms not just from students.
    Because of my high risk status, I highly prefer to do my teaching at Cornell online.

    There is another not well-publicized and known and emerging factor that can contribute enormously to the Covid-19 outbreak even with proper social distance. This known and emerging factor is the air conditioning/heating vents which I think the committee members may have overlooked it but has an enormous impact upon reopening of the campus as air-conditioning/heating vents are in every building on campus.

    There is a very recently published paper to raise this concern of air-conditioning/heating vents to Covid-19 outbreak. The article “COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020” by Jianyun Lu, Jieni Gu, Kuibiao Li, et al. is just released in Emerging Infectious Disease, Volume 26, Number 7, July 2020. The scientific data provide a very good illustration how the air flow from the air-conditioning vent vs. the seating position of customers in a restaurant could infect people at different seating locations:

    “We conclude that in this outbreak, droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation,” reads the troubling report. “To prevent spread of COVID-19 in restaurants, we recommend strengthening temperature-monitoring surveillance, increasing the distance between tables, and improving ventilation.”

  22. This is to share a thought about what I feel should be an essential part of resuming on-campus teaching: education about our response to pandemics. This suggestion has several motivations. The most important is that our behavior will need to change (whether students return to campus or not) and we will need to be on the same page about what should happen and why. Second, I have been impressed at how effective Andrew Cuomo has been as a leader and educator. People (not just in NY) are paying attention and responding. A third source is a required course in the early decades of Cornell on “Hygiene and Preventative Medicine.” It was a two credit course that seems to have been required in most or all degree programs. Maybe it is time to resurrect a new version of this course.

    A pandemic is a complex problem. Solutions are being developed at great speed and in our time. It is an opportunity for people at Cornell to learn about immune systems, evolution, public health, disease ecology, public health policy, and a number of other major topics. Many things will need to change in order to coexist with this disease. It presents a multifaceted, multi-layered learning opportunity.

  23. Cornell needs to consider utilizing its research resources to perform large-scale in house testing for the coronavirus. We can then monitor the entire Cornell population periodically to effectively quarantine all positives, including the asymptomatic.
    Doina Tumbar, MBG

  24. (Hit the send button too soon) One thing I think we should consider is assigning faculty advisors to our incoming freshmen as soon as possible and having faculty make contact with them over the summer. In the past few years, I have participated in the pilot program for a freshman advising seminar. It seems to me that this will be really critical and perhaps every student should be in a small group, optional beyond first year students, so they can have a non-academic context in which to connect with each other, an advisor, and the campus and explore the issues that this unique form of learning introduces.. I would be. happy to help with any work to help make this kind of a remote learning seminar happen.

  25. I just want to thank the committee for its thorough work. I have read the provided documents and feel like people are recovering all the bases. I feel confident we will arrive at the most cautious decision.

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