As the beginning of the fall semester approaches, we are charting unprecedented waters in higher education. The progression of the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty and anxiety in a way that most of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. 

With classes starting next week, we continue to plan for a semester that will almost entirely be delivered by distance education. An extensive survey by the Curriculum and Instruction subcommittee of the CSI Re-Entry committee identified only 88 out of 1,650 course sections that are currently proposed to be offered as hybrid rather than fully online. Any courses that are listed as fully online will be delivered in that mode throughout the semester. Those that are listed as Hybrid (all labs, studios, and clinical experiences) may have some in-person instruction, but the campus is not currently ready for students and faculty to convene on campus in this mode. We are anticipating that some in-person instruction should be possible for these courses later in the semester, depending on the progress of the pandemic, and we are working on off-campus solutions for Physical Therapy and Nursing. However, for the time being, most instruction and student and employee support services will continue to be offered remotely. 

Over the summer, much effort has gone into developing strategies for how to maintain our academic activities during the pandemic. Two large committees have been working on how to resume on-campus activities. The first of these is the Research Re-Entry Committee (RRoC) chaired by Dean Michael Cavagnero. The RRoC report was submitted to CUNY in mid-July. Following review by CUNY Research AVP Tamera Schneider, the report was approved by EVC Cruz on Tuesday, Aug. 4 and can be viewed online​ . This approval opened the door for faculty with funded research projects to prepare individual plans for how to resume limited research safely within their labs. However, resumption of research activities is also dependent on the establishment of safe conditions within the buildings where research will be conducted. Supplies have been ordered to provide improved HVAC capacity, touchless bathroom fixtures, and signage for three high-priority buildings – 6S, 5N, and 5S, and we will be able to resume limited research activities for PIs with sponsored research and doctoral students nearing completion once the safety conditions have been met in those buildings. I understand that those with such research commitments are anxious to resume activities in their labs, but our campus has significant infrastructural issues that we need to address before we can safely have regular research occupancy of our buildings.

The second committee, the Campus Re-Entry committee, which is co-chaired by VP Hope Berte and me, submitted their report to CUNY on Friday, Aug. 7. It is currently under review at CUNY, and will have to be approved by both CUNY and the State of New York before we can begin to implement that plan. Per CUNY directions, the plan details how we can institute a phased reopening of the campus up to a 25% capacity. The work of this committee is expected to continue throughout the academic year, and Hope and I would like to thank all of the committee members and co-chairs for their dedicated work over the last few months. Once the plan is approved by CUNY and the state, it will be posted on the Website. In the meantime, just about all instruction and academic support services will continue to be delivered remotely, and the St. George and Willowbrook campuses will remain closed except by previously approved appointment. 

This semester will be a learning experience for all of us, and I appreciate the dedication and creativity you are all bringing to serving our students during this remarkable health crisis. Even though we will not be together on the Willowbrook Campus, I look forward to working with all of you in the coming weeks.​

By J. Michael Parrish