Alfred State extends Spring Break following announcement
ALBANY — SUNY and CUNY campuses will shut down most in-person classes and move to online learning for the rest of the spring semester to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
The dramatic step, which takes effect March 19, will affect nearly 690,000 students across the two major public college systems as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases grew to 212 across New York, including 121 in Westchester County, mainly in the hotspot of New Rochelle.
Students will be encouraged to remain at home for the rest of the spring semester, though accommodations will be made for students who must remain on campus for laboratory classes or those who have no other place to stay, according to Cuomo's office.
The schools will have the next week to tailor a plan for their individual campuses, which will address exactly how the new policy will be implemented.
Alfred State responds
Locally, Alfred State President Skip Sullivan said the college will "follow the directives of both Governor Cuomo and SUNY Administration to maintain the health and safety of our campus community."
Alfred State has adjusted its Spring Break schedule in light of Wednesday’s announcement from the governor.
"Alfred State has determined that the current spring break will be extended for another week for students on the Alfred, Wellsville, and Northland campuses," Sullivan said. "Students will have another week at home. This will not alter work schedules for faculty and staff who are still scheduled to return on March 16.
"In keeping with the Governor’s message, the college plans to move as many courses as possible to a distance format. The academic planning will be completed next week and we intend for it to take effect on Monday, March 23."
Many Alfred State majors feature hands-on learning, such as in the building trades. Sullivan said the college will be working through the implications of the campus shutdown over the coming days.
"As an institution that has a significant number of applied learning programs, the college will work as quickly as possible to determine how and when students can complete these course requirements and we will continue to communicate our plans," Sullivan said.
SUNY campuses respond to end of in-person classes
Cuomo's decision caught some SUNY presidents and officials by surprise, sending them scrambling to come up plans to ensure the switch can happen next week.
Kevin Drumm, president of SUNY Broome, said Wednesday afternoon he had seen reports that SUNY would move to online learning, but said he was awaiting direct confirmation from SUNY administrators or Cuomo's office.
"At that point we'll immediately post information on how this will impact the SUNY Broome community," Drumm said in a statement. "Thankfully, preparations have been taking place."
In a message to students, SUNY Orange President Kristine Young said she was "as stunned as you may be."
"Simply put, College administration needs time to digest what has been said in order to compare it with the plans we were preparing," she wrote.
Cuomo said there will be some variation among campuses, particularly when it comes to when the "distance learning" order takes effect.
For example, most students in the public college system are heading out for spring break this week, so it's likely those students simply won't return to campus, he said.
"Here at Brockport, we are working rapidly on implementation strategies related to this initiative, but a comprehensive plan is not yet in place," the college said in a statement. "I urge you not to take immediate action, such as moving out of your student housing."
How will the end of SUNY's semester be handled?
At the start of the 2019-20 academic year, SUNY had more than 415,000 full and part-time students while CUNY had about 274,000.
Some sort of partial refund will be made available to students who will not remain on campus despite paying for a full semester of room and board, according to SUNY spokeswoman Holly Liapis.
The specifics of the refund process are still being worked out, she said.
Beth Garvey, Cuomo's special counsel, said it is still to be determined how many students will still be on campus after March 19.
There still may be some students there, particularly those whose classes rely on laboratories or other facilities only found on campus, she said.
The governor said each college will be "releasing students to the best of their ability, starting March 19," but there also may be exceptions for students who have hardships and some classes that need to held on campus.
The campuses, he said, will be limited beginning March 19, but the dorms may stay open to address any specific issues of students.
"They are not evicting anyone," Cuomo said. "They are not closing the dorm and kicking you out."
SUNY's decision part of national move to end classes
The decision for the state university system comes as colleges across the country are moving toward distance learning to finish off the spring semester, including at Cornell University in Ithaca.
The SUNY Student Assembly, a group of students representing campuses throughout the public-college system, issued a statement Wednesday agreeing with Cuomo's decision.
"Guaranteeing the health and safety of the State University of New York’s students, faculty and staff is rightfully Governor Cuomo’s priority," the statement reads.
At his news conference, Cuomo sought to allay fears over the spreading coronavirus, noting that only 32 of the 212 confirmed cases in New York have resulted in hospitalization and none have resulted in death so far.
By contrast, the state had 8,459 confirmed influenza cases the week ending Feb. 29 alone, according to the Department of Health. There have been nine pediatric deaths this flu season in New York.
"I understand it's a virus, I understand it sounds like a bad science fiction movie," Cuomo said of the coronavirus. "This is not the Ebola virus, we've dealt with that. That was a much more dangerous, frightening virus. The facts here actually reduce the anxiety."