As the coronavirus pandemic continues to create uncertainty about the future, universities and colleges are scrambling to distribute plans to their students regarding the fall semester. Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger announced his plans on May 4 through a B-Line announcement.
Stenger emphasized his first priority is the safety of the BU community and maintained that the administration is planning on operating normally for the fall semester. Additionally, Stenger acknowledged the variability of the situation and noted the possibility of continuing remote learning. However, he did not specify if continuing distance learning would be for the entire semester or for the first half, followed by a transition to in-person classes.
“We recognize that things can change quickly,” Stenger wrote. “Just as we all had to shift rapidly to a remote learning environment this spring, public health requirements might result in another disruption to the fall semester. While we intend and plan to be on campus, we are also preparing for scenarios in which that’s not possible for part or all of our fall semester.”
According to some students, the announcement presented more uncertainty. Kyle Stigler, a junior majoring in computer science, said he feels Stenger’s plan lacks concreteness.
“For [Stenger’s] statement, I basically read it as, ‘We have no plan,’ and to be honest that doesn’t surprise me,” Stigler wrote. “Things change by the day, so it’s almost impossible to actually have a plan in place this far in advance that is both not an overreaction and not an underreaction.”
For international students like Jacky Qin, a senior majoring in mathematics, the University’s communication during the outbreak has caused him uncertainty for not just classes, but for living situations too.
“Last month, after hearing rumors of potential cancellation of the summer semester altogether, I waited two or three weeks for a definite answer that summer is indeed pressing forward online, and the apartments will still be open,” Qin wrote. “I understand that they also needed time to figure things out, but I was quite worried for a while about where I would be for the summer.”
Like Qin, Stigler said he feels University communication regarding administrative developments about the pandemic has been subpar.
“They tried to keep us on campus as long as possible this spring even, when things in other parts of the state — where a lot of people had just returned from due to a long weekend — were spiraling out of control,” Stigler wrote. “There are no good options, and communication from [BU] has been awful”
Despite the complaints, Qin said he recognizes the difficulty of the situation and appreciates the move to having classes on campus in the fall because of the challenges remote learning presents.
“Looking at the email, [BU] is leaning toward the fully on-campus coming back idea, which wouldn’t be a bad idea because my personal experience with the Zoom classes is that it hasn’t been easy.” Qin wrote. “However, that probably should build on the basis that we’re having a healthy and safe campus.”
If the University were to go online again, Stenger wrote the administration will explore ways to improve the remote learning experience. However, Stigler said remote learning for the fall semester would be a senseless move.
“A fully online semester is pointless because, based on feelings I have and conversations I’ve had with friends, … we aren’t learning anything, whether that be at [BU], other SUNY’s, community colleges or private non-SUNY schools,” Stigler wrote. “One of my friends said it perfectly in my opinion: ‘We aren’t learning anything, we’re just turning stuff in.’”
According to a April 17 B-Line announcement, the University has developed a Public Health Advisory Group to create plans for next semester. While the group is working toward ironing out strategies, Stenger asked for students’ input on how to return to “a new normal.”
“Whatever they [the Public Health Advisory Group] decide, we need to prepare plans for multiple scenarios that we can select from when government leaders tell us what the constraints are,” Stenger wrote. “I am reaching out to you today to ask you to give us any ideas you may have or that you have heard from another source.”
To submit strategy ideas for next semester, members of the BU community can fill out a form by visiting https://binghamton.edu/new-normal/.