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Interim President Bernstein Seeks Input on Fall Semester

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Interim President Michael A. Bernstein has issued a message to faculty and staff soliciting input on issues surrounding the Fall 2020 semester. The message reads as follows:

Coronavirus UpdateI write concerning the planning process for Fall semester. Clearly, we have many variables to consider in our decision-making. Ultimate choices about the Fall will not be made until June 30 at the latest, as we still lack full information as to what a safe, productive campus environment will look like. We are working hard, especially with our infectious diseases experts in the health sciences, to gather and refine as much relevant data as possible.

Along with other members of the senior leadership team, and in full collaboration with President-Designate McInnis, I am eager to learn what issues you believe need to be considered as we step toward a decision about the Fall term. We have already identified a series of principles (about which more below) to frame our thinking, and we welcome your input and advice.

The health and well-being of our community, our pursuit of adequate, reliable testing for the COVID-19 virus and its antibodies, and the establishment of effective social distancing protocols must stand at the center of any actions we take. We are, as well, always dedicated to continuing our excellence in education, research, scholarship, and art-making; promoting an accessible academic environment for everyone; maintaining the success and upward social mobility of our students; fostering and ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion; embracing the traditions and wisdom of shared governance practices; and cultivating a vibrant and nurturing institutional culture. In addition to these core values, we must (to my mind) consider the following operational realities:

  • The challenges of ensuring staff, faculty, and student access to safe workspaces and residence halls, and to necessary information technology;
  • The obligation of facilitating the continued success of Stony Brook University Hospital and of Stony Brook Medicine in serving all our patients;
  • The interruptions, occasioned by the emergency, in our scholarship, research, and art-making missions – and the imperatives of recovering from them;
  • The need to reconfigure our student success and retention efforts in light of social distancing practices;
  • The increased demand for instructional training and support in a new and rapidly evolving teaching environment;
  • The continuing impact of the pandemic on enrollment trends and on course modalities;
  • The potential obstacles now facing our international students with respect to visa processing and travel;
  • The financial and budgetary implications of our plans, especially given the fact that revenues are, and will continue to be, considerably reduced and costs are high and rising;
  • The expectation that many of our facilities will be physically reconfigured in conformity with infection control protocols;
  • The requirement that all our decisions be aligned with policy guidance from SUNY and Executive Orders from the Governor of the State of New York.

Please give these matters some thought. If you wish, please click here to share your ideas and suggestions.

I am very grateful for your input and help.

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  • Why not wait until the end of July to decide if classes will be virtual or not? This will give you more data to make a better informed decision? Plus the end of July would still give you plenty of time prior to classes beginning to put in place whatever is decided.

  • Why not allow freshmen and sophomores back into the dorms, or at least freshmen, so that they will not miss out on the in-person campus experience, after having already missed out on their high school senior activities (i.e., prom, graduation, senior trip, senior activities week, yearbook signing, saying goodbye to friends and teachers, etc.)? If only freshmen and sophomores, or at least freshmen, are allowed back into the dorms, everyone can then live in single rooms and practice social distancing in their living and learning communities. Upperclassmen, who already have experienced two years of college living and fun, and had a normal high school graduation experieince, can then either live off campus or continue with their college education remotely from home. Also, why not do away with Graduate Housing altogether, and convert it to undergrad housing? Certainly graduate students should have the wherewithal and experience to live off campus, which would help solve the undergraduate housing shortage on campus, and assist in implementing social distancing in the dorms.

    • Hi Jeff,
      You have some great suggestions. I would like to let you know that Graduate students do not have enough salary to live off campus. They receive less than $30K per year.

  • Another idea is to have in-person classes, but only for the students living on campus. Commuter students would have to take their classes online, which is not as much of a problem for them because they are already living and studying at home anyway. This would eliminate the problem of students coming and going each day.

  • No possible way to protect library faculty and staff from the @6000 students passing through daily.

  • To Whom it may Concern,

    My husband works for the NYC Dept. of ED as a teacher and they are having great difficulty in finding a realistic solution to opening in September.

    My son is telling me that you have a few options open but none of them are in reality, safe for any student or staff. What is the protocol for students that become infected with Covid-19? How are they supposed to safely quarantine themselves and who would be caring for them? Are we supposed to bring out infected children home to infect other members of our household? And what about breaks? Students and staff that are potentially infected will be bringing this virus to their homes without necessarily showing symptoms. And what about the poor students that do become infected? Some people have a long recovery time, how will your school be taking into consideration the effect on their coursework? And how are they supposed to social distance in their dorm rooms that are barely 6ft wide and sharing one bathroom? If you think any young adult will be sticking to these rules … I just don’t know what to say.

    By opening in August/September, you are creating a ticking bomb. Every state that has reopened has seen an incredible increase in cases. Too many people are acting as if nothing is wrong and not taking proper precautions, if any. How are you going enforce proper distancing and PPE? Who will be providing disinfectant and soap on the level that will be needed? It’s incredibly hard to find these items in store, so to place that burden on the parents is again, unrealistic. And if you are planning on placing that burden onto the parents, then what about those that cannot find anything or cannot afford those items in the quantity that would be needed? Right there, you are setting them and their roommates up for infection.

    I understand the need to return to “normal” but not at the expense of people’s lives. Keeping learning as online until a vaccine is released is the only humane and realistic approach.

    I hope that you take my concerns and questions seriously and into consideration.

    Thank you for you time and I look forward to hearing from you and for clarification.

  • As a senior citizen, I am enrolled in the OLLI program, and am also a member of the Stony Brook University Wind Ensemble. My concern is the Wind Ensemble. Our group is around 70 strong. Please do not confuse this with the Stony Brook University Marching Band (I know they hate to be called that).

    We rehearse in a large room, but social distancing in rehearsals will be impossible. We cannot wear masks while playing (exception: the percussion section). We do not just breathe, we also blow into our instruments. I see a tremendous problem here. I look forward to your thoughts.

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