ITHACA, N.Y. — After an announcement late last week that the university would no longer be able to accommodate the quarantine of all students returning to campus, Cornell President Martha Pollack released a statement on Wednesday defending the plan and releasing details of the student compact.
Tompkins County and City of Ithaca officials both expressed surprise to the Ithaca Voice last week regarding the sudden change to the reopening plan. The change has caused increased concern in the greater-Ithaca area about the viability of Cornell’s plan. Concern university officials sought to head-off some of those concerns on Wednesday.
“As we have determined our path forward during this pandemic, I want to be absolutely clear that every one of our decisions has been, and will continue to be, driven by that responsibility, not by our own financial considerations,” said Pollack in a message to campus. “Rather, we made the choice to reopen based on our finding – counterintuitive though it may be – that an in-person semester is the best possible way for Cornell to limit the spread of the coronavirus, on our campus and across the Ithaca region.”
Pollack is referring to the university’s reopening committee finding that, since most of the school’s undergrad population lives off-campus, that holding an all-remote slate of classes could actually help spread the virus because it gives the university less control over student behavior. The thinking is that if students have to access campus and online services, that gives the school leverage of students — and in turn, greater influence over the behavior of the student population.
The letter also offers details on the surveillance testing program being carried out in partnership with the Tompkins County Health Department. Cornell Health is training employees to collaborate with TCHD as contact tracers.
“Reopening with in-person instruction will allow us to employ all of the public health measures we know to be effective, by requiring that all students, regardless of whether they are living off or on campus, agree to and sign a behavioral compact,” Pollack’s letter adds.
That compact has been a document of interest locally since the idea was floated. Details of exactly how the university would try to control the behavior of the nearly 25,000 undergrad, graduate and professional students it draws to the area.
The document outlines the establishment of the Cornell Compact Compliance Team (CCCT), which will be tasked with dealing with compact violations reported to the school and handing down punishment if the student is found to have flouted the ruled. These deterrents include loss of access to campus, loss of on-campus housing and deactivation of a student’s net id or online student account. Students will not be allowed to appeal decisions made by the CCCT. The compact also states that if a student is found to be in severe or repeat violation of the compact that their case could be handed up to the Office of Judicial Administration for Code of Conduct violations that could result in a student’s suspension or expulsion for the university.
Students must also submit daily health checks, provide emergency contact information and their local address. It also asks students to “make every effort” to self-quarantine before coming to the Ithaca-area and to be tested “frequently,” including shortly after arriving and as part of the regularly scheduled surveillance testing. They also agree to socially distance, have a mask on campus and wear a mask whenever entering a building and keep gatherings to fewer than 30 people. Students are also barred from inviting guests to campus, including family members.
In addition to the compact, students must also participate in a training course about Cornell’s approach to the pandemic and pass a related quiz. Students who do not complete the course and agree to the compact will not be able to register for classes.
“I want to again acknowledge the difficulty, yet importance, of adhering to Cornell’s and New York state’s public health expectations,” said Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi in a message to students. “I very much believe that we will, collectively, make our well-being a priority as we begin this year under exceptional circumstances. Cornellians have, in times of crisis, always come together, and we need to do so now more than ever.”
Read Pollack’s letter here.
Read Lombardi’s letter here.
Read the student compact below:
Featured Image: Cornell Clock Tower by Shea H Belsky.