In a B-Line announcement released on May 18, Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger asserted that BU is “anticipating and planning” a campus reopening for the fall semester.
After dealing with the immediate consequences of the coronavirus pandemic in late March and early April, Stenger and Donald Nieman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, formed a working group of public health experts and campus officials to reopen the University in the fall and compare it to the efforts of other universities. The group, known as the Return to Normal team (RTN), took in over 200 suggestions from students, faculty and staff on how to plan a fall campus return.
Stenger wrote that the team has also addressed various scenarios where a fall semester return could take on nontraditional forms.
“A scenario to divide the fall semester into two half semesters was tested with faculty and staff in a variety of areas and disciplines,” Stenger wrote. “The team quickly found significant problems with this approach. Because the benefits were marginal, the idea was not pursued further. The team is doing this with dozens of scenarios, addressing topics such as residence hall occupancy, our academic calendar, modes of instruction, classroom occupancy, restarting research activity, transportation, staff returning to campus, virus testing, etc.”
This announcement comes exactly two weeks after Stenger’s initial statement on reopening. The May 4 B-Line announcement suggested a reopening in the fall. However, Stenger expressed concern in doing so and noted the possibility of continuing online distance learning. The announcement was met with criticism from students, who felt the plan was neither concrete nor detailed.
In order to develop plans for the “new normal,” Stenger wrote that he has conducted meetings with other BU officials, academic executives and local and state officials. This includes the 64 State University of New York (SUNY) presidents, Rep. Anthony Brindisi, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, New York State Sen. Fred Akshar, Broome County Executive Jason Garnar and Binghamton Mayor Rich David. Stenger wrote about the positive outcomes of these meetings and realizing that BU was at the forefront of efforts to reopen universities.
“One of the benefits of all of these meetings is learning; we all have similar problems with common potential solutions,” Stenger wrote. “I have also come to the realization that, in many ways, Binghamton University is near the head of the pack on assessing and planning for what it will take to reopen safely. I credit that to the excellent work of the RTN team.”
Stenger also referenced Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press briefing on May 11 from BU’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. In the briefing, Cuomo detailed four phases of reopening for state regions that met certain criteria for doing so. The Southern Tier region was one of five regions that met this criteria. Stenger wrote that this announcement signaled a narrowing of scenarios that emphasized the protection of the BU community’s health, maximized the University’s academic activities and met the guidelines of New York state and Broome County.
To meet reopening expectations, 15 working groups of nearly 100 people were created to ensure every student, faculty and staff member meets reopening expectations, Stenger wrote. These groups will be monitored by the Office of Emergency Management to delegate resources and keep the groups on schedule.
“These working groups have been charged with creating plans for the hundreds of tasks needed to reopen safely and efficiently,” Stenger wrote. “In most cases the topics of the working groups identify their charge and scope of work. These groups have begun to meet frequently and will meet as one single large group each week, where we can learn of strategies, best practices, an overlap of responsibilities and advancement of the plans.”
Furthermore, Stenger wrote that a fully workable and detailed plan will be made available on June 15, citing the need to comply with dynamic guidelines from state officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, if these guidelines become more identifiable by June 15, Stenger noted that the University will adopt and work around them immediately.
In wake of these guidelines, the University will test their own reopening procedures in the last two weeks of May with the approximately 500 people that are returning to campus to continue their scholarship, research and creative studies.
Stenger concluded his announcement with some suggestions to faculty and staff, urging the need to communicate with each other and begin to develop their own safety plans for reopening. Stenger advised students to relax and enjoy summer break.
“Take a break! You deserve it,” Stenger wrote. “Go for a walk, read a novel, play a game with your sibling and sleep in until noon a few days a week. But at the same time, start getting excited about returning — not too excited though, as social distancing will have new expectations for how you will live and learn this fall.”