Start of semester: Important updates for faculty and instructional staff

August 13 Follow Up on In-Person Operations for the Fall Semester

Aug. 11, 2021

Dear faculty and instructional staff,

We hope you have opportunities this summer to relax and enjoy some time with family and friends, and that you are beginning to feel restored after an incredibly challenging academic year. We are writing today with some important announcements and reminders about the upcoming fall semester. Please be advised that guidance could change depending on the course of the pandemic.

In-person instruction will be the norm

Faculty and instructional staff, along with all other university employees, are understandably apprehensive about pandemic-related health risks. As has been repeatedly demonstrated over the course of the pandemic, the university has taken a careful and rigorously scientific approach to such risks, aimed at pursuing its academic mission while placing the highest priority on campus and community health. Our plan for the fall semester is designed to minimize the risk of virus transmission and provide a safe environment for learning and discovery. While some transmission has been observed elsewhere among groups of people with substantial vaccination rates (for example, the CDC reported on a cluster in Provincetown, Mass., where roughly three-quarters of those involved were vaccinated), our on-campus vaccination rate of 94% is higher than those other instances. 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. More details are available on the COVID-19 Response website.

As such, the university has determined that it is appropriate to return our students, faculty and instructional staff to campus in order to resume normal in-person residential instruction. During such normal operations, in-person teaching is considered essential for all faculty members and instructional staff with teaching responsibilities. Accordingly, the university will not approve requests, including those premised on the need for a disability accommodation, to substitute remote teaching for normal in-person instruction. For individuals with disabilities, the university routinely works to explore a wide array of possible workplace accommodations. Any faculty member in need of any disability-based accommodation should contact the Medical Leaves Administration office (MLA). For individuals who are not able to perform the essential functions of their position because of a disability, MLA can advise them of other options, including the availability of a medical leave. Any faculty member who may need to take a leave of absence in order to care for an ill family member may contact the MLA office to understand their available leave options.

While remote teaching is not an allowable substitute for in-person instruction when our students are on campus, faculty may incorporate specific aspects or components of virtual instruction that they found particularly successful during the 2020-2021 academic year, provided that they continue to provide full in-person instruction as scheduled. This is consistent with the existing discretion of instructors to experiment with the inclusion of different modes of content delivery (e.g., providing pre-recorded lecturers as class preparation and using scheduled time for discussion).

Enforcement of vaccination and testing requirements for students

COVID-19 vaccination is required for students attending the Ithaca, Geneva and Cornell Tech campuses, and while documented medical and religious exemptions will be accommodated, the expectation is that our campuses and classrooms will overwhelmingly consist of vaccinated individuals, greatly reducing the risk of infection for all.

Students who arrive in Ithaca unvaccinated will have a limited amount of time to get vaccinated. Cornell Health currently provides vaccines to students and will be hosting vaccine clinics at the start of the fall semester to ease access to the vaccine. However, if a student fails to get vaccinated and has not received an exemption, they will be subject to progressive enforcement measures, beginning with registration and enrollment holds that will restrict access to some campus services and block enrollment actions, followed by barriers to accessing Canvas and, ultimately, withdrawal from the university.

Unvaccinated (exempted) students will be required to participate in surveillance testing two times a week. Students who fail to comply with this requirement will be restricted from making course enrollment changes, as well as from access to university Wi-Fi and Canvas.

Faculty are not required to provide remote access or record lectures

Since Cornell is returning to in-person instruction, there is no expectation that faculty will provide remote access to instruction or lecture recordings. This fall, over 15,800 course sections will be held across our diverse inventory of campus instructional spaces, with less than one quarter of classrooms equipped with the A/V technology necessary for remote instruction or recording of lectures.

Students have been informed that remote access will not be available, but they might, nevertheless, ask individual instructors for the ability to participate in classes remotely regardless. One-off decisions by faculty to allow 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.

International students facing extenuating circumstances (including visa difficulties and delays or travel limitations) that prevent them from arriving before the start of classes are asked to contact the student services offices in their home colleges to see whether it will be possible for them to stay on track with their courses until they arrive on campus or whether they will instead need to adjust their course schedule or fall semester plans altogether. The deadline by which students are required to arrive on campus to participate in fall classes is September 9, the last day of the course add period. Your student services office may contact you about special cases. Keep in mind that remote access to class may not always be the best solution, and that 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.

Temporary accommodations for students

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.

Classroom logistics

Classroom assignments will be published in the Class Roster by the end of this week. Requests to change the published location of a class will only be considered for the following reasons: accessibility needs; proximity to specialized equipment or other resources; and/or unforeseen changes to expected enrollment. Please keep in mind that due to significant increases in student enrollment, enrollment management complications due to the pandemic, and our return to department-managed class schedules that create space shortages at peak times, there is little slack to accommodate change requests, and that furthermore, a single change can have cascading impacts on many other classes.

Seat assignments and attendance. This fall, instructors are not required to assign seats or take attendance. 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.

Indoor masking policy. As you know, we announced last week that all students, faculty, and staff must wear a mask while inside campus buildings and facilities. Current data indicates that vaccinated individuals represent a small number of transmission cases across the country and that wearing a well-fitted mask along with being vaccinated will provide maximum protection against COVID-19. While teaching, instructors can 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 by through college A/V teams.

In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 infections on campus and in the local area, the on-campus vaccination rate, local public health guidelines and other factors, refining and revising our models accordingly. You will be notified if it becomes necessary to adjust our plans for in-person instruction this fall. We ask that faculty not make independent decisions about moving courses online.

Thank you for all your efforts to reach our students and ensure the success of the upcoming semester. Updated guidance will be posted on the COVID-19 Response website as it becomes available.

Michael Kotlikoff

Lisa Nishii
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education