CAPITAL REGION — Colleges and universities across the Capital Region are planning to bring students back to campuses in the fall with myriad health precautions and allowances for students and faculty to opt out of in-person instruction.
The University at Albany on Monday notified students the school plans to begin its fall semester on Aug. 24, as originally planned, while Siena College also announced a start date of Aug. 24 for in-person, on-campus instruction. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has also outlined preliminary plans to have students return in the fall.
“Pending final review from the governor and SUNY, we plan to begin our fall semester on campus on August 24, 2020, as originally scheduled,” UAlbany Provost Carol Kim and Michael Christakis, vice president for student affairs, wrote to students in a June 22 message.
Colleges are also reworking academic calendars to prevent students from returning to campus between Thanksgiving and Jan. 1 in an effort to limit travel to and from campus and to keep students away during the peak of flu season, which is expected to complicate the COVID-19 pandemic.
And all preliminary plans posted and communicated by local colleges include caveats and conditions to keep campuses closed if state and local health officials deem that necessary.
But even if students do return to campuses, it’s clear the fall semester will look far different from any before it. Colleges are still planning for a combination of in-person and remote classes, with some courses likely being conducted in both forms. At UAlbany and other schools, students will be allowed to request an all-online course schedule. At Skidmore College, faculty members were asked to prepare for both in-person and remote instruction and given the option to adopt an “all-remote teaching plan” due to “health constraints or because they still feel unsafe” teaching in person.
Student housing will be opened but at reduced capacities, and some colleges are looking for additional off-campus housing options for students. Dining services will include takeout and delivery options. Group activities and club gatherings will be strictly limited. Students will be required to social distance and wear face masks; colleges will limit the number of people in public places, including classrooms, libraries, student centers and more.
On its website, Skidmore outlines two “key principles” guiding the school’s reopening plans: protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and the broader Saratoga Springs community, and; return to a “fully residential, in-person” liberal arts education as soon as possible. The college said it was doing all it can to ensure students can return to campus in the fall, though it indicated its possible only a portion of students – somewhere between 75 percent and 100 percent – may be able to return in the fall.
“Our aspiration is, and will continue to be, to bring as many Skidmore students to campus in the fall as possible, while complying with health and safety guidance from New York state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health organizations,” Skidmore officials wrote in its fall planning information.
Even as the colleges reveal new information on their websites and in communications with students and staff, they are still leaving the most important questions about just who will return to campus and what their day-to-day life will look like until there is greater clarity from state officials.
“The longer the college can wait before making key decisions about how many students to bring to campus, the better information we will have from health agencies and the more informed those decisions will be,” Skidmore officials wrote in its planning materials.
While Union College has yet to announce its fall plans, some essential faculty and staff have started to return to campus as part of the state’s phased reopening, complying with staggered work schedules and mandatory cleaning practices and mask wearing.
Michele Gibson, Union’s vice president for administration and finance, in a message to college staff last week highlighted the college’s goal: “to all be safely together on campus again.”