Currently the COVID-19 epidemic has created much more public concern than did previous outbreaks such as SARS and Ebola. Right now, we do not know the extent of exposure in our region, but it is certainly underrepresented by reported cases and there is every expectation that numbers will grow as more individuals are tested. The CSI Library has established a very useful site that they are updating regularly, which includes reports from CUNY, NYSED, New York City and State, the CDC, and other agencies.

Tonight, I am writing to address specifically the challenges we may face delivering instruction and some of the proposed solutions. It is likely that you will have students in your classes who will need to be quarantined and we will have to find ways to assist them in academic continuity in their courses. Solutions could include relaxed attendance policies during their isolation, extension of deadlines for assignments, providing make-up exams, permitting online advising, and/or allowing remote participation in classes.

Programs in heavily affected areas (China, Japan, Italy) have, in many cases, switched to entirely remote delivery of courses for the time being, and we just learned this afternoon that the University of Washington has done the same, moving classes online until the end of their winter quarter (3/20/20), although they expect to return to normal operations for the spring quarter starting the end of March. 

Obviously some classes lend themselves more readily to remote instruction than others, but there are things you can do in the interim to be prepared for this turn of events if it comes to pass. All faculty have access to Blackboard shells for each of their courses, which will probably be the best points of contact when students, faculty, and staff might have to communicate remotely. This would be a good time to familiarize yourself with the features of Blackboard, including its remote conferencing tool Blackboard Collaborate. Instructional material on how to use Blackboard can be found on CUNY’s Website  and on CSI’s Training Website.

In the event that the campus is closed, or you are quarantined personally, it may be necessary to have materials available in the cloud. If you need to access files remotely, take advantage of our cloud applications (Office 365/OneDrive and DropBox) where you can upload and share files. Information regarding in-person and online training can be found on our Training Website .

We have a taskforce that includes members of cabinet and the Chair of the Faculty Senate that will be meeting daily as needed to confer on emerging issues involving COVID-19. A larger group will convene weekly. Even if the campus were to be closed, we would need to maintain operations in facilities including the physical plant, the animal care facility, and Public Safety. 

We should know more about CUNY’s and CSI’s responses to this health issue in the near future. In the meantime, remain calm and practice sensible hygiene, such as hand washing with simple soap and water and avoiding touching your face, nose, and eyes.

The next few weeks will be challenging, but together we will find ways to maintain our commitment to our students.

By J. Michael Parrish