Welcome to the Fall 2020 Semester

As we prepare to start this most unusual fall semester, I want to thank all of you for your creativity, persistence, and support of our students during the last six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our re-entry plan was approved by CUNY last week, which lays out a plan for a slow, careful move back to campus. This does not mean that there will be significant on-campus activity in the near future. We hope to have two academic buildings, 6S and 5N, up to the standards for air quality and signage specified by New York State for higher ed by early next week, which will open the door for very limited sponsored research activities as approved by the research re-entry committee and also will allow for some necessary on-campus teaching in areas such as physical therapy, nursing,  biology, and chemistry. Stay tuned for updates on these activities, but for now, assume all instruction and other work will occur via distance education/telecommuting unless you are specifically informed otherwise.

Speaking of research, this was a very good summer for our faculty receiving research grants:

• Tobias Schaefer from the Math Department and his NYU colleague Eric Vanden-Eijnden had their project, “Sharp Large Deviation Estimates of Fluctuations in Stochastic Hydrodynamic Systems,” funded by the National Science Foundation. The award amount is $147,603 over three years.
• Dr. Kristen Gillespie-Lynch​ in Psychology received funding from NSF for her project, “Promoting Engagement in Informal STEM Learning as a Path to Employment for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” The award amount was $945,539 over three years.
• Also in Psychology, Dr. Sarah Berger (and her co-PI Regina Harbourne) were funded by NSF for their project, “The Role of Sleep in Infant Motor Problem Solving.” The award amount was $485,916 over three years.
• Dr. Maria Knikou from Physical Therapy received a National Institute of Health RO1 grant to support her research project  titled, “Priming with High-Frequency Trans-spinal Stimulation to Augment Locomotor Training Benefits in Spinal Cord Injury.” The amount in the first year (of five years) is $597,511.

Several faculty members achieved recognition for their scholarly efforts:

• History Professor Alexander Zevin was selected to receive one of the five Henry Wasser Awards presented for outstanding Assistant Professors in CUNY for 2020. The Feliks Gross and Henry Wasser Endowment Awards are named after two of the CUNY Academy’s founding members. 
• In Media Culture, Associate Professor Racquel Gates is the recipient of one of this year’s Academic of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Academy Film Scholar awards for her book in progress Hollywood Style and the Invention of Blackness.
• In the School of Education, Dr. Greg Seals was a recipient of the John Dewey Society Outstanding Achievement Award for his book Teachable Moments and the Science of Education (Routledge, 2019). 

All of these accomplishments emphasize the importance of research, scholarship, and creative activity to the academic life of CSI. I know that our researchers and scholars have been frustrated by the impact of the campus closure resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Facilities and Academic Affairs are working hard to provide a safe campus environment where research activities that rely on campus facilities can resume as soon as possible. In the meantime, I would like to wish you all a productive and safe fall semester.

J. Michael​ Parrish

Fall Semester Update

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

Academic Affairs Updates Regarding Re-Entry Plans

The campus has been involved in collaborative faculty/staff/administration efforts to develop re-entry plans for CSI as a whole, and a separate one specifically for research re-entry. I wanted to update you on both of these processes. The Campus Re-Entry committee is working hard on the re-entry plan, which we will submit to CUNY at the end of the week. As President Fritz has announced on several occasions, the submission of a plan does not mean that we will be returning to campus any time soon. Our fall schedule currently shows 91% of class sessions being offered online, and 6% scheduled as hybrid, which means that those sections may include a limited in-person presence when some parts of the campus are ready to open on a limited basis using CUNY, State, and CDC guidelines for safe campus operations. We are looking at options to address a few pedagogical needs dictated by accreditation and licensure. At this point, virtually all campus services will continue to be offered online as well. When we do return to campus, it will be a gradual, carefully monitored process. 

A separate committee developed a plan for research re-entry, which was submitted to AVC Tamera Schneider at CUNY for review on July 17. It was returned with requests for revisions last Thursday, and a revised version was sent back to CUNY for final approval today. The plan was approved yesterday by EVC Cruz, and is now published on the CSI Research Website​. As with campus re-entry, the process detailed in their report will be slow and measured, and dependent on the campus meeting the same health and safety benchmarks addressed in the campus report. 

A thread running through both plans is that the health and safety of our campus community will be our foremost concern. We have significant challenges to our campus infrastructure that will need to be addressed before we can return to campus for even limited classroom instruction and research. I know we are all anxious to return to a state resembling the pre-pandemic normalcy, but cautionary tales from other states and educational institutions support the notion that we need to re-open slowly, monitoring conditions as we do so.

I hope you are all safe and healthy.

J. Michael Parrish

Fall Semester Updates

At last week’s CUNY Board of Trustees meeting, the Board granted CUNY maximum flexibility in offering a primarily online curriculum in the fall, while keeping the option open of delivering a select number of class sessions in person once Staten Island is in Phase 4 and, most importantly, if the campus has the financial resources to meet the necessary safety requirements. 

The Research Re-Entry Committee submitted their plan for the gradual resumption of research activities on campus to President Fritz and me. It will shortly be forwarded to CUNY AVP of Research Tamera Schneider for review. Once it has passed review, campus researchers with external funding will prepare their own plans to resume limited campus activity while ensuring social distancing and safe working conditions for principal investigators, graduate students, support staff, and other essential personnel. 

In the meantime, the CSI Re-Entry Committee continues to develop its plan for how and when various campus operations will resume. The Curriculum and Instruction subcommittee will be submitting a survey to those Deans and Chairs who have indicated that some portion of their instruction will need to be delivered in person. 

After a troubling decision was announced last week by ICE that foreign students would be unable to remain in the U.S. if taking an entirely online curriculum, we yesterday heard the good news that that decision has been rescinded. I would like to thank the numerous faculty and staff who offered assistance in developing ways to keep our foreign students registered, and particularly to Stephen Ferst in keeping me informed as this situation changed continually over the last several days.

The return to campus will be slow and measured, with the safety of our students, faculty, and staff a paramount consideration. In the meantime, I hope you all are having a safe and sane summer.

By J. Michael Parrish

Professor Albert Blank

It is with great sorrow that we announce to the College Community the passing of retired Professor Albert Blank. At the age of 95, Al Blank died peacefully at home in Pelham, NY on Wednesday, June 17.

A research professor in the Computer Science Department since 1993, he was instrumental in developing the Assistive Technology Computer Laboratory for Visually Impaired People. An applied mathematician, he did seminal work in optics, developing a theorem for binocular space perception. As Professor of Mathematics, he inspired students at NYU and Carnegie Mellon, headed a multi-year national study group that developed calculus courses for high school students, wrote a three-volume textbook on calculus, and in retirement, developed a computer-assisted tactile course for teaching calculus to the blind. He loved English Country dancing, served on the Board of the national society, and supported the growth of several local groups. He will be deeply missed by his wife, Nancy DeVore; daughters Sharon, Tamara, Deborah, and Irina (Caldwell); and his four grandchildren. 

A memorial event will be held in his honor at a later date.

By J. Michael Parrish

PCA Student Statements Update

Last week, I sent a message highlighting the poetry readings of Zaenob A. Bashir and Mayah Burke, students in the Drama Program of the Department of Performing and Creative Arts. In the message, I should have mentioned that these two talented students received important and caring mentoring from PCA faculty members Sean Edgecomb, Maurya Wickstrom, George Sanchez, and Kevin Judge. A solidarity statement, written by the aforementioned faculty, accompanied the two poems. The entire presentation can be viewed online. 

Wishing you all a joyful Juneteenth.

By Michael Parrish

Powerful Student Performances on Recent Events

The reprehensible killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Ardery are just some of the latest in centuries of violent crimes against people of color in our country. As a white male of privilege, I know I can go to the grocery store without fearing for my life because of the color of my skin, but thousands of men, women, and children in our city cannot. The most important mission of an institution like the College of Staten Island is to be an agent of change and a catalyst for equity and inclusion, but it should also serve as a venue for exploration of difficult topics and creation of original research, scholarship, and creative activity. In the spirit of those goals, I would like to share a link to two powerful performances​ by young black poets in the Drama program that express their feelings about the events of the last few weeks. We are living in challenging times, but young voices like these give us reason to be hopeful for the future. 

Hoping you are all well and safe.

By Michael Parrish