Return to Campus Task Force Update

By La Jerne Terry Cornish, Rosanna Ferro, June 8, 2020
A message from the Return to Campus Task Force co-chairs.

When the Return to Campus Task Force was officially launched on May 26, we committed to keeping the college community apprised of its progress through periodic updates. We are pleased to report that the task force is off to a quick start, focusing on the critical things that we must address across the campus before we can open in the fall. As the co-chairs of the task force steering committee, today we will discuss two important topics — the addition of a 10th subgroup, and further background and context around decisions related to the 2020-21 academic calendar.

Task Force Update

The 13-member steering committee and co-chairs of the nine original subgroups have been meeting twice weekly since the task force launched. The subgroups, in turn, meet separately to do critical work around ensuring that the college is ready to restore residential life and in-person instruction for the fall on October 5 — making the campus as safe and healthy as possible.

Before moving into the update itself, we want to express how gratified we are with the great representation of faculty, staff, and students who have solidified the membership of the task force and of the subgroups. The student and faculty participation, in particular, is the direct result of the feedback we have received and to which we have swiftly responded. We are very pleased to now have all stakeholders strongly represented, including key community partners from our local area.

Now, among the charges of the task force and subgroups is ensuring that the appropriate health and safety guidelines are incorporated into all aspects of our college operations as we move ahead. With that overarching goal in mind, we have added a 10th subgroup, “Educating for Social Responsibility.” This group is co-chaired by Doreen Hettich-Atkins, director of strategic planning and administration in Student Affairs and Campus Life, and Dr. Jonathan Ablard, associate professor of history.

The Educating for Social Responsibility subgroup will focus on ensuring adherence to social norms — by students, faculty, and staff — in keeping with guidelines developed by the Tompkins County Health Department as well as state and federal agencies. The group will help to communicate these guidelines, and it will provide education about health and safety expectations upon returning to campus. A special focus will be placed on our students who live off campus, including their interactions with the wider Ithaca community. It is essential that the entire campus community — students, faculty, and staff as well as visitors — focus on these protocols, as we will need to change our social behaviors in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

We are seeking participants for this new subgroup, as we continue to identify what we need to address before we can return to campus in the fall. If you are interested in joining this group, please contact Doreen Hettich-Atkins at Thank you.

Academic Calendar Considerations

As President Collado noted in her announcement, the college is planning for in-person instruction to begin on October 5. We are presently working with our campus community on details of the 2020-21 academic calendar and hope to be able to share more information soon. This decision aligns with student desires for in-person instruction on a residential campus and our commitment to provide that, while ensuring that the appropriate health and safety guidelines are incorporated into all aspects of our college operations. Many have had questions about the academic calendar. Our extensive, cross-campus and community based collaborations are on-going and they will continue to inform our planning for how the revised academic year will unfold. These efforts ensure that our plans are fully aligned with the evolving guidelines from our national, state, and local authorities and that they are implemented in a safe and methodical manner.

It is important to re-emphasize that the later-than-usual start will provide our campus community with a longer summer break, and we’re heartened by the generosity of feedback given by faculty and students during recent consultative meetings about academic calendar planning. Upon gathering input regarding academic priorities related to the calendar planning, we are consulting closely with other campus stakeholders and our health partners to develop a tentative calendar that meets academic priorities and that attends to health and safety contingencies.

To provide more background and context around the college’s decision to prioritize holding the 2020-21 academic year in person — to the extent possible and permissible — on our South Hill campus, we would like to share some of the following factors taken into consideration in addition to our number-one concern: health and safety for all.

Residential Student Move Out

There are numerous things that must happen before we can return to campus, beginning with the ability of returning students to move their belongings out of residence halls from the spring semester.

  • Our move-out plan was impacted and informed by guidance from the Tompkins County Health Department, which asked us to delay the start of move-out until the second week in June, as well as spread the timeframe out in order to reduce the number of people on campus at any one time.
  • Today, we began a phased move-out process, which will take us about five or six weeks to complete. It is our hope that all students will have moved out of the residence halls or will have their belonging stored on campus by mid-July.
  • Our facilities department needs at least 45 days to clean residence halls and get them ready for move in, which would take us to the end of August or early September, at best.

New York Forward Reopening Plan

In the meantime, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has clearly articulated a four-phased reopening plan for the state. Education is part of the fourth phase, and the Ithaca region just entered phase two on May 29. While we are hopeful that our region will continue to progress through the phases without delay, we need to remain nimble and prepared for contingencies.

Classroom Considerations

There are more than two dozen items being considered in relation to classroom instruction and safety, and we must address each and every one of these concerns before we can begin in-person instruction. The many issues around which we will all be receiving guidance in the coming weeks include:

  • adjustments to schedules
  • building traffic flow patterns
  • classroom lay-out and sanitation
  • PPE protocols / enforcement
  • hybrid instruction models (in-person and remote)
  • virtual office hours
  • guest speakers
  • physical library logistics
  • laboratories

 Learning, Living, and Working Considerations

Discussion and planning is also taking place related to the impact COVID-19 may have in the following ways as we return to on-campus instruction:

  • student, faculty, and staff absenteeism due to the importance of reviewing symptom screening daily and avoiding campus when ill
  • how remote learning can be utilized by students and/or faculty if they are in quarantine
  • potential for “burnout” among students, faculty, and staff as a result of a compressed fall semester
  • potential for COVID-19 infection during influenza season
  • importance of minimizing travel during the semester to help reduce opportunities for COVID-19 exposure

And this is just a small sampling of the considerations under deep discussion.

Please know that we hear the voices of our campus community, loud and clear, and also know that there is much we must accomplish before we can welcome our community back this fall.

Our campus has been in transition since mid-March. When we receive approval from federal, state, and local authorities to open in the fall, we will do so — with great joy and celebration. But we must do so safely, intentionally, and methodically. The next academic year will be like none other we have experienced, and we can only hope that the protocols we need to put in place for the upcoming year will be for one year only. We all want our students to have the best learning experience possible, and we will do whatever we can — as a whole campus community — to deliver that experience as soon as we can.

In closing, we will continue to provide regular Return to Campus Task Force updates, like this one. We also have created a website, which we will update regularly, to help ensure information sharing for our community as the work of the task force progresses. In addition, leaders from the task force will share updates at upcoming virtual student sessions and at ongoing summer staff and faculty meetings. If you have any questions or thoughts you would like to share with the task force, please send an email to

We thank you very much for your continued patience as the task force collaborates with partners across the campus, and in our local community, to plan for an opening that maintains safety for our students, faculty, staff, visitors, and our beautiful Ithaca.

Please stay healthy and be safe!


La Jerne Terry Cornish, Ph.D.
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Rosanna Ferro, Ed.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Campus Life