Faculty feedback requested for fall instruction planning

May 27, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

For the last month, committees comprising faculty, staff, and students have been working on planning for the upcoming fall and spring semesters, including consideration of both residential and online instruction options. While we do not yet know if residential semesters will be possible, it is important that we understand the faculty’s perspectives on holding in-person classes should this be feasible. All such classes would be conducted under new policies and procedures, under discussion, that would safeguard our Cornell and local communities, protect vulnerable faculty, staff, and students, and mitigate overall public health risks. We expect that these policies and procedures would very likely include:

  • All members of the Cornell community – including students living off-campus – would need to wear masks as required by health authorities, practice physical distancing in and outside the classroom, conduct daily self-administered health checks, and be tested prior to returning to classes and retested regularly to enable the university to directly monitor the prevalence and spread of the virus;
  • All members of the Cornell campus community would be required to adhere to contact tracing and quarantine protocols as established by the Tompkins County Health Department;
  • Faculty, TAs, staff, and students in elevated risk categories would be advised not to attend in-person classes;
  • Travel would continue to be restricted and students would be expected to remain in the Ithaca region during the term;
  • Many co-curricular and extra-curricular activities would be held virtually, and in-person gatherings would need to be pre-registered and limited in size according to public health guidelines;
  • Dining halls and food services would offer take-out systems and limit in-person dining using reservation systems designed for physical distancing;
  • Access to campus facilities would be restricted and governed by new protocols, including those designed to de-densify traffic flow;
  • Enhanced sanitation protocols would be in place; and
  • Space configurations and HVAC systems would be assessed and modified where possible.

Should the campus re-open for in-person instruction in the fall, we are also likely to operate a significantly modified academic calendar with blended instructional modes. We may either be able to welcome all students back to campus or initiate a sequenced or partial return of the student body. In order to de-densify the campus during flu season and to limit risks associated with travel in and out of our community, it is highly likely that in-person instruction would end at Thanksgiving. Instruction for the remainder of the fall semester and the beginning of the spring semester would likely be delivered online (until students return to campus in February). And, of course, the possibility remains that, even considering the mitigating actions above, health considerations or New York state directives might preclude any in-person instruction and instead require that all instruction remain virtual, at least for the fall semester.

In the event of re-opening for in-person instruction, we envision three basic course types. The revised course catalog would indicate the intended modality for each course so that students can choose their courses accordingly, with a clear understanding that any in-person instruction may need to be suspended in the event of an outbreak:

  1. In-person instruction with remote accessibility to the classroom for students who cannot physically participate because they are off-campus or in quarantine;
  2. Online courses that are designed a priori to be taught entirely online (teaching a course online would not necessarily preclude the possibility of in-person exams;) and
  3. Hybrid courses that involve some combination of in-person and online instruction.

As large gatherings will continue to be prohibited, lecture courses with attendance above 50 will require adaptations under any scenario. This could mean that they are offered entirely online or that they involve a hybrid format that enables some in-person instruction. Additionally, because of physical distancing requirements, smaller courses and those requiring special facilities such as labs and studios may require modification. We have asked department chairs for early input to enable the Committee on Teaching Reactivation Options to develop revised models of classroom use and scheduling.

Faculty teaching courses that will likely contain online components should begin developing them as soon as possible, anticipating the above information. We have learned from students and faculty this spring that students benefit from: regular, clear communication about what is required versus optional material; a sense of course community; and shorter video lectures that are pre-recorded and uploaded for students in advance. Faculty should also work with their colleagues and the Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) to design course components that may not translate easily to an online format, including traditional timed exams. More specific guidelines will be provided based on recommendations from the Committee on Preparation for Online Teaching, and tips for effective online course design are available through CTI, as are ADA guidelines for accessibility of online courses.

Finally, and most important, we need to know your own preferences as soon as possible. Later today, you will receive an email from Vice Provost Lisa Nishii with a link to a short survey that asks about the likelihood that you will opt to teach in person in some capacity (all or hybrid) under the above described conditions, or whether you would opt to teach entirely online. The responses you provide to the survey will not be binding; however, knowing your current intentions will help us estimate the total classroom space that will be needed to accommodate courses with in-person components.

Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to ensuring that we continue to deliver an excellent educational experience for our students.


Michael Kotlikoff
Provost and Chair of Teaching and Reactivation Options Committee

Lisa Nishii
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Chair of Teaching and Social Distancing Sub-committee

Gary Koretzky
Vice Provost for Academic Integration and Chair of Health Considerations Sub-committee