ITHACA, N.Y. –– Administrators from Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College gathered over Zoom Tuesday night to discuss what the upcoming fall semester will look like and address community concerns over the implications their plans will have for the community as a whole.

The meeting began with Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Paul Reifenheiser and Vice President of Student Services Greg McCalley from TC3 discussing their return to campus plan which includes a mix of on-campus housing and in-person, fully online, and hybrid (online and in-person) classes.

“Our approach to the fall was that we really wanted to maintain a healthy environment while responding to the needs of our students. What we realized was that covid brought to the forefront a lot of equity issues for our students,” Reifenheiser said.

The utilization of a hybrid model to reduce in-person density while keeping campus open has been the only viable option for TC3 which has a high percentage of low-income students with less access to reliable wifi or technology needed to fully engage in online learning. Their students are set to arrive back at school by the end of the month.

Ithaca College, which was also expecting their first group of students to campus at the end of August made the announcement yesterday that they would be reversing their decision and continuing with a virtual semester this fall. CFO William Guerrero, Vice President Affairs and Campus Life Rosanna Ferro, and Provost La Jerne Cornish joined the town hall meeting to discuss how their plans will play out.

“I hope the community understands that even though we’re not open in the sense that students won’t be on campus in large numbers, we do still have a responsibility (to open safely),” Ferro said.

IC President Shirley Collado in a virtual campus-wide meeting Tuesday stated that the college is still moving forward with their reopening plans –– minus the students. That means ventilation improvements, social distancing marking and staff testing procedures are set to continue in order to minimize the community spread amongst essential faculty and staff and prepare for an in-person spring semester.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting CFO Guerrero discussed why it would be essential to have in-person learning come springtime as IC is operating at an extreme deficit and the lowest enrollment rate in the last 10 years.

“The implications of being remote for the entire year are significant,” Guerrero said. “It would lead us to a $30 to 50 million deficit.”

Additionally, the college will be looking to continue furloughs as the semester continues, although it is unclear how or when those official decisions will be made.

Perhaps the most controversial of the three college’s decisions is Cornell’s. They are continuing to move forward with their in-person reopening plans and have already allowed several hundred students back to Ithaca.

Cornell’s Vice President of Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi reported that their plan is working out well with about 4% of the university’s more than 15,000 students having returned to campus, and infection rates remaining low so far.

Lombardi said that about .6% of students from non-quarantine states have tested positive for COVID-19 compared to the anticipated 2% infection rate laid out in the reopening plan. That number is combined with an infection rate of around 1% of students from quarantine states that is anticipated to be around 4% as arrivals continue.

Additionally, VP for student and campus life Ryan Lombardi addressed complaints that they are not following their own re-opening plan that includes students being tested upon arrival to campus.

Lombardi said students who have arrived on campus late after testing had closed were tested first thing the next morning,

Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina reiterated Cornell’s rhetoric on Tuesday night that many undergraduate students would be returning to campus regardless of school opening or not, and that in order to protect the surrounding community it is the university’s responsibility to keep track of and test them.

“We recognize this is counterintuitive. We recognize the level of anxiety that a number of you are expressing,” he said. “Let me reassure you, we are putting significant focused analysis and attention to these concerns and as we are today, we are confident that our approach is in the best interest of public health.”

Cornell continues to stress that they will conducting rigorous surveillance testing and that their undergraduate students will undergo testing a minimum of twice per week. They also continue to reiterate that their behavioral compact and its consequences will be strict enough to ensure adequate compliance.

Cornell is set begin the fall semester with a mix of in-person and virtual instruction on Sept. 2.

Both IC and Cornell plan to continue holding town-hall style information sessions as questions and concerns continue to arise regarding the coming months.

Ithaca College has an all-student gathering planned for Wednesday, Aug. 19, from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. and an all-staff gathering on Monday, Aug. 24, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.

Cornell will be holding a faculty and staff town hall on Thursday, Aug. 20 at 4:30 p.m.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com