Academic Policies, Instruction & Resources
Cornell’s plan for the fall semester is designed to minimize the risk of virus transmission and provide a safe environment for in-person learning and discovery. We anticipate that the majority of individuals on our campuses will be fully vaccinated. Other public health measures, including surveillance testing and indoor masking, are also in place for the fall semester.
Maintaining Public Health in the Classroom and Workplace
Is it safe to hold classes in person?
First, as described above, mandatory vaccination for students, mandatory masking (including while in classrooms), and a high vaccination rate for instructors together significantly reduce the chance of transmission (by 99.5% when everyone is vaccinated and all students wear masks). Even if the infectious individual is not vaccinated and only the exposed individual wears a mask, the reduction in transmission is high, at 96%.
Second, as described above, regular surveillance and contact tracing will find infections and allow isolation of positive cases.
Together, modeling performed by the Cornell COVID Modeling Team estimates roughly 2 secondary infections in total among students due to classroom transmission across the entire student body over the entire semester, if masking requirements are maintained. If prevalence among students falls after student-arrival as expected, it may also be possible to relax masking requirements for vaccinated students without significantly increasing risk.
Instructors who remain masked while teaching, get vaccinated, and maintain social distance from students when possible are at even lower risk than students. This same analysis by the Modeling Team estimates that such an instructor’s risk of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 while teaching over the course of the fall semester is approximately 1 in 10,000. This is comparable to the chance of being struck by lightning in one’s lifetime (1 in 15,000) and is roughly 100 times smaller than the recent reported rate of infection for Tompkins County residents.
What do I do when a student is not compliant with the university’s indoor masking requirement?
Please see the guidance provided on the Dean of Faculty website.
What are the plans for physical distancing in the classroom and in workspaces?
When New York state and Cornell public health restrictions were lifted over the summer, physical distancing was no longer required, allowing classrooms and workspaces to return to their normal configuration for the fall semester. We have done extensive modeling and are confident that with the large percentage of vaccinated individuals in the classrooms, in particular, there would be little added benefit of imposing distancing requirements. And, for added safety, both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals are required to wear masks in classrooms and in shared areas of the workplace.
With current guidance, do faculty have to wear masks while lecturing? Where can faculty get face shields?
While teaching, faculty may opt to use face shields instead, though we recommend that you maintain extra distance if you choose to do so. Face shields can be obtained through college A/V teams, and masks can be ordered from eSHOP through your department.
Can faculty choose to move their class online if they start to feel concerned about transmission?
Faculty may not independently decide to move their class online. For all faculty members and instructional staff with traditional teaching responsibilities, in-person teaching is considered an essential part of their duties. Therefore, we expect in person teaching to be the norm with little or no variance. While full-time remote teaching is not an allowable substitute for in-person instruction, the university does encourage faculty to incorporate limited and specific aspects or components of virtual instruction that they found particularly successful during COVID.
I am concerned about emerging evidence that even vaccinated individuals are at risk of contracting the delta variant and don’t want to put myself at risk by being on campus.
The safety measures put into place on Cornell’s campus provide substantial protection against infection with the delta variant.
First, mandatory vaccines for students and high vaccination rates for staff and faculty (over 85%) reduce both an individual’s chance of being infected and also their chance of infecting others. For example, an article in the Lancet estimates that people vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine are 79% less likely than unvaccinated people to be infected when exposed to the delta variant. Another article studying data from Israel estimates that, if infected, vaccinated people are 41% less likely to infect others compared to unvaccinated infected people.
Masking for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals provides further protection. Masking for just the exposed person or just the infectious person reduces transmission by approximately 80% (Howard et al., 2021), and if both are masked the protection is compounded, achieving a protection of approximately 96%.
Combining these measures, transmission from one masked vaccinated person to another on campus is reduced by 99.5%, compared to transmission between unmasked vaccinated people.
In addition, twice-weekly testing of unvaccinated individuals, once-weekly testing of those vaccinated individuals with more contact, and contact tracing of positive cases will quickly find infectious individuals, reducing the risk of infection further. (Testing additionally lets us understand if and how transmission is happening, letting us adjust interventions to provide additional safety if needed.)
While transmission has been observed among groups of people with high vaccination rates (for example, the CDC reported on a cluster in Provincetown MA where roughly ¾ of those involved were vaccinated), none have a vaccination rate as high as the Cornell community. Moreover, the populations in which these outbreaks occurred were not protected by regular testing, nor did they use masks at the level that they will be used by the Cornell community. Modeling from the Cornell COVID Modeling team suggests that Cornell’s testing and masking interventions will prevent such outbreaks, even with pessimistic assumptions about social contact and masking compliance.
Finally, while the risk of infection is low, if a vaccinated individual is infected they are much less likely to have severe symptoms compared to an unvaccinated person who is infected.
If a student in my class tests positive, will I be notified and will a communication go out to other students in the class?
Faculty would be notified if a student in their class who tests positive requests a temporary accommodation from Student Disability Services (SDS), in which case SDS would send letters to the students’ instructors. The entire class will not be notified of positive student cases, only those students considered close contacts. Although it is highly unlikely that a faculty member would be identified as a close contact in the classroom context, should interviews of positive students reveal that an instructor was indeed a close contact, that instructor will be notified and advised to seek a supplemental test.
More generally, the process for responding to positive cases will be different this year compared to last year because the vast majority of instructors and students are vaccinated. Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine after contact with someone who tests positive unless they have symptoms. The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people should get tested 3-5 days after their exposure even if they don’t have symptoms. We have embedded these precautions into our fall semester plan. We will be surveillance testing all fully vaccinated undergraduate students and students in professional programs with high levels of interaction once a week and unvaccinated students twice a week, not just those who are known close contacts. Remember, nearly all instructors and students are already fully vaccinated. The CDC also recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask indoors for 14 days following exposure or until their test result is negative. Our universal indoor masking policy incorporates this precaution, again not just for close contacts but all individuals.
Fully vaccinated masters and doctoral students who are not in required surveillance testing (because of their lower levels of interaction through programmatic activities) can opt to participate in supplemental testing through Daily Check at their own pace, as can faculty and staff. In addition, instructors will have the opportunity to enter surveillance testing starting in early September as soon as our testing capacity allows.
As we did last year, we will continue daily and extensive monitoring of positive cases to understand how they are related (i.e., transmission patterns) and implement customized interventions as appropriate, such as additional testing, changes to classroom protocols, and/or a temporary move to online instruction in select contexts if the data indicate the need to do so.
What accommodations are available for faculty and staff who are concerned about in-person operations during the fall semester?
Cornell cares deeply about our faculty and staff, who have demonstrated tremendous resiliency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We remain steadfastly committed to offering a wide range of individualized accommodations as we resume in-person operations this fall. These accommodations include a medical leave. We urge all faculty and staff with questions to contact the Medical Leaves Administration office (MLA).
Individual academic and administrative units at Cornell may, at Deans’ and unit leaders’ discretion, choose to offer additional options for faculty and staff with extraordinary circumstances that prevent them from teaching and working in person this fall. Those options may include a reduction in work hours, a temporary reallocation of teaching duties, and/or short-term or partial remote instruction.
The university has a long history of working closely and compassionately with faculty and staff seeking workplace accommodations for disability, personal, and family reasons.
My children are not vaccinated and therefore I am concerned about working in person and transmitting the Delta variant to them. Should I be worried about returning to campus?
As has been repeatedly demonstrated over the course of the pandemic, the university has taken a rigorously scientific, carefully tailored and highly responsive approach to the pandemic, aimed at pursuing its academic mission while placing the highest priority on campus and community health and safety. To date, there have been no documented cases of in-classroom transmission over the course of the pandemic. Furthermore, mandatory vaccines for students and high vaccination rates for staff and faculty have resulted in the vaccination of a high percentage of the campus population; vaccination reduces both an individual’s chance of being infected and also their chance of infecting others.
Adherence to the university’s mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals provide further protection. In addition, twice-weekly testing of unvaccinated individuals, once-weekly testing of selected cohorts of vaccinated individuals, and careful tracing of close contacts of positive cases will quickly find infectious individuals, reducing the risk of viral spread. Collectively, these measures reduce the probability of in-class transmission to extremely low levels.
I am in a student-facing job and would feel more comfortable if I could get a plexiglass shield installed at my desk. Am I allowed to do this and, if so, what is the process for getting one installed?
We are not recommending the installation of plexiglass shielding at this time. Shielding was initially installed with the belief that it may provide droplet protection. However, there have been no studies showing that plexiglass shielding is effective in preventing COVID-19 spread. Given the high rate of vaccination on campus, coupled with universal masking in indoor public spaces, additional droplet protection is not necessary.
Can students eat or drink in class?
To every extent possible, students should eat before or after class, or during breaks in the middle of longer classes. Our campus classrooms, including lecture halls, studios and laboratories, are configured for full capacity this semester. According to current masking guidelines, students are expected to minimize the time they spend unmasked to take a sip or bite, and to re-mask immediately after drinking or eating.
Are departmental events/meetings with food allowed indoors?
Please review the events page for the latest guidance on hosting events.
In-Person Instruction and Office Hours
Given the disrupted learning environment over the past year, I anticipate that the academic needs of our new students will be different than in previous years. How do I best identify and bridge any knowledge gaps they may experience?
Some students may need extra help this year to adjust to studying at Cornell. As an instructor, there are several steps you can take to support them, including forming connections, identifying gaps and normalizing getting help, and checking in early and assessing student knowledge often. For an individual teaching consultation, The Center for Teaching Innovation offers convenient online drop-in sessions to answer your questions.
I’ve been contacted by a student who would like to know if I can provide them with remote access to the class for the duration of the semester. What should I do?
Students have been informed that semester-long remote access will not be available, but they might, nevertheless, ask individual instructors for the ability to participate in their fall ’21 classes remotely. One-off decisions made by faculty to allow semester-long remote access are problematic for a number of reasons and are highly discouraged. Students requesting remote access due to a disability should be directed to register with Student Disability Services to develop an accommodation plan.
Are students allowed to physically attend courses they are interested in adding during the beginning of the semester?
Students interested in visiting a class during the course add/shopping period may do so provided there are open seats in which they can sit after all enrolled students are seated. For safety reasons, faculty should keep aisle and open areas clear, and not allow students to exceed room capacity limits. For classes with enrollments equal to or close to the number of seats in classroom, faculty could place a note on the door during the first week of class to make it clear to waitlisted students that seats are reserved for enrolled students.
I’m inviting a guest speaker who will be participating remotely. Does my class need to meet in person that day?
Yes, all in-person classes are expected be held in that modality, even when guest lecturers participate remotely.
Will instructors be required to hold in-person office hours during the fall semester?
It is up to the discretion of the course instructor(s). Ideally, faculty would offer the opportunity for students to meet with them in person and remotely in order to provide the greatest flexibility in accessing office hours.
Am I able to hold my class outside under a tent?
Yes, tents are located on our various academic quads for faculty to reserve space for holding class 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Please contact your college registrar for assistance in reserving space under a tent.
Is it okay to have students collaborate in small group discussions/activities during class?
Yes. All we ask is that students remain masked. Remember, there are also online collaborative tools that can be used for in-person small group work where physical closeness isn’t needed, such as working on a digital white board (Jamboard) together, post notes and lists on a shared page (Padlet), brainstorm and fill-in information together (Google slides, sheets or docs), participate in interactive team polls, surveys or games (Poll Everywhere), peer review classmates’ work, or annotate and comment on readings or visuals together (Hypothesis, Perusall). Contact Cornell’s Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) to help you incorporate group work and collaboration activities into your classes.
I plan to use a clip-on microphone in my class. Will I be issued one individually or will one be left available in the classroom for instructors to use?
Clip on microphones will be assigned to classrooms, rather than to individual faculty. We ask that faculty disinfect the microphone before and after use utilizing the disinfectant wipes provided in the classroom. We know much more about COVID-19 now, and that the primary mode by which people become infected is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying the virus. Epidemiological data and studies of environmental transmission factors show that surface transmission is not the main route by which the virus spreads, and the risk is considered to be low.
What resources are available for enhancing the web accessibility of my Canvas course?
I liked the way Zoom chat allowed students the chance to ask questions during class sessions. Is there a way to duplicate that chat during in-person classes?
There are a number of tools that can be used to imitate Zoom chat during in-person classes. We recommend using Ed Discussion, or the Chat available in Canvas. Students can open either program on their device during class and pose questions or leave comments. If you have two display screens in your classroom, you can use one to display the chat discussion. If you only have one screen, you can occasionally switch to display the chat, or you can monitor the chat on your computer or a mobile device without displaying. You might consider having a TA monitor the chat, or even asking a student to share questions from the chat with you at designated times during class.
Isolation and Quarantine
What are my options for supporting a student who is in quarantine or isolation during a prelim?
The Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) has developed support strategies for faculty to consider when giving prelims to students who are unable to take them in person due to quarantine or isolation. Review CTI’s guidance on alternative assessment options that faculty can use to fairly and effectively test students.
If I test positive for COVID-19 and need to self-isolate, can I just move my course online?
Instructors should work with their department chair to explore all options before switching temporarily to online instruction. Options that would maintain an in-person learning environment for students are preferred, and might include having a colleague or TA fill in, or team teaching with a TA who is in the classroom while the instructor connects remotely. In some cases, having the instructor teach remotely while in isolation (if they feel well enough to do so) may be identified as the best solution for students.
Will students who are placed in isolation or mandatory quarantine receive temporary accommodations through Student Disability Services like they did last year? Can faculty count on being notified by SDS?
When a student is placed in isolation or quarantine, they may request a temporary accommodation through Student Disability Services (SDS). SDS will, in turn, notify instructors that the student will need flexibility in attendance, and may need alternative arrangements for assignments and/or exams. We ask that faculty use their discretion to determine the best way to support students based on the nature of their course. As noted above, faculty are not required to provide remote access to students who cannot attend class. In the majority of classrooms, remote access will not be an option because classrooms are not Zoom-enabled. Instead, lapel mic recorders will be available to capture audio recordings to accompany other course materials. College A/V teams should serve as the primary resource for faculty when electing to use technology-enabled solutions. The COVID-19 Response website has a range of other ideas for how to support students.
What are the expectations for supporting a student who is placed in isolation or mandatory quarantine?
We ask that faculty use their discretion to determine the best way to support students based on the nature of their course. There are low-tech ways for students to keep up with class until they are able to be present in person, just as they would have prior to the pandemic. Faculty are not required to provide remote access to students who cannot attend class. In the majority of classrooms, remote access will not be an option because classrooms are not Zoom enabled. Instead, lapel mic recorders will be available to capture audio recordings to accompany other course materials. College A/V teams and should serve as the primary resource for faculty when electing to use technology-enabled solutions. Options might include:
- Current class audio recording: The university has procured lapel mic recorders for making audio recording of class lectures to share with students. Please note, clip-on microphones issued last year will not work with these recorders. Instructors should contact the local AV technical support for the building in which they are teaching to borrow these mics and receive training on how to use them. Detailed instructions on how to use the lapel mic recorder and transfer recordings to you student(s) can be found here.
- For blackboard capture, faculty can utilize high-resolution USB cameras on tripods. These cameras were successfully used last semester and are very light weight and easy to deploy. The cameras are used in conjunction with the room's built-in PC or the instructor's laptop. Software such as Panopto or Zoom can record and share the recordings with your student(s). Detailed instructions are available on CIT’s website. Please note that if you are recording blackboard work, you may also choose to record with the lapel mic recorder. This will produce two files for the student(s) but allows for audio of the entire lecture to be captured, not just the work at the blackboard. The local AV support can consult on which approach is best depending on the particulars of the room and course pedagogy.
- If available, lecture audio or visual recordings from previous semesters may be shared with students via Video on Demand, in conjunction with current slides.
- Zoom: Please note that even if your classroom is equipped with a computer, it may lack the other pieces of technology required to enable a proper zoom connection for students. If that is the case, instructors who are interested in using zoom to support students can use their own laptop (or a loaner) to connect to zoom, either to provide a live synchronous connection or an asynchronous class recording. Instructions on how to record in Zoom are available on CIT’s website. If a room is not setup for Zoom a USB speakerphone can be used to improve the quality of audio captured. Please note that using a USB speakerphone has limitations and may not work well if you move away from the teaching station or turn to work at the blackboard.
In addition, faculty can support students by facilitating collaborative notetaking:
- Ask that students use a Google doc to compile (crowd source) lecture notes to share. OneNote allows students to write, draw or sketch course notes and collaborative in a shared folder.
- The use of Hypothesis, accessible through Canvas, enables instructors and students to annotate handouts, create notes, and start conversations in the margins of text (readings, new, blogs, books, etc.). It also allows students to authentically connect online to ask questions, share ideas, and collaborate.
Why would a student be restricted from accessing Canvas?
Students who are not compliant with the university’s fall checklist completion, vaccination requirement, and/or mandatory surveillance testing will be restricted from accessing Canvas. They have been repeatedly reminded of these obligations and there is nothing faculty can do to reinstate their Canvas access. Faculty are not obligated to provide course materials, accept assignments, offer make-up exams, grant extensions, or provide alternative methods to taking quizzes/exams administered through Canvas while the student is restricted.
Faculty will see these students show as “inactive” in their Canvas class list. The student’s name will not show in the Gradebook, but when the student is reinstated in Canvas, their grades and assignments will be restored. If students have questions, they may contact the COVID-19 Support Center via the Daily Check.
What do I do when a student who has been restricted from Canvas shows me that they’ve completed their surveillance test but Canvas still tags them as being “inactive”?
Faculty should not accept informal proof of compliance. Students are reinstated to Canvas when their “inactive” tag is removed in the system, which can take 12-24 hours from the time the student actually completes their surveillance test. Faculty are not obligated to provide students with course materials, offer make-up exams, or grant extensions assignment deadlines for missed work that occurred during a student’s access restriction period.
Will I be notified when a student’s Canvas and/or campus access has been restored?
Faculty will not be directly notified when their Canvas access has been reinstated, however a student’s active status can be viewed in the People tab in the course Canvas site, which is updated multiple times daily.
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- Cornell International Affairs Travel Resources
- Center for Teaching Innovation
- Cornell Research Services
- Teaching International Students: Tips for Online Instruction
- Mentoring Remotely During Disruption
- Processes for COVID-19 Accommodations and Options for Graduate Students (PDF)