MIKE KOTLIKOFF: OK, why don't we get going? Thanks, everybody, for joining us. It's great to be with you today. I'm Mike Kotlikoff, provost.
I'm joined today by Wendy Wolford, vice provost for International Affairs. Wendy will serve as our host. Also today with us is Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education, Gary Koretzky, vice provost for academic integration, Emmanuel Giannelis, vice president for research and innovation, and Kathryn Boor, vice provost and dean of graduate education.
So let me start off just by making a couple of comments. I want to start, first of all, by acknowledging everyone's hard work over this academic year. It's been an amazingly challenging year. And everyone has really stepped up.
At the same time, I also want to acknowledge the stress that everyone has been under and how much people are straining right now under the combination of isolation, hard work, and anxiety. We're looking for ways to alleviate people's individual burdens. And I'm hopeful that we're beginning to see conditions in which we can contemplate, not yet act on, but certainly contemplate a more normal existence and a more normal campus. But I do want to really say that this community has really worked extraordinarily hard. And we're aware of how much stress everyone is under.
So turning to our topic for today, I know there's going to be a lot of questions about this semester. And we'll try to answer those as specifically as possible. I just want to start by saying a couple of words about the fall, an area in which we have incomplete information at present, but for which we need to start planning.
First, I want to assure everyone, and I'll repeat this several times, no decisions have yet been made. However, we do need to begin planning pre-enrollment. Pre-enrollment begins at the latest, and we pushed it back, the first week in May. And if you count back eight weeks, the time it takes for us to populate, get faculty to give us their course, build a curriculum, and then populate individual rooms and times, we need-- we need eight weeks for that, which really means we have to start that now.
And Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost Lisa Nishii, has started with her Curriculum Planning Group to plan that and to start to put that in place. Again, no decisions have been made. But we want to try and anticipate as normal a fall semester as conditions possibly allow. Our goal is, if at all possible, not to have a fourth COVID semester for our students, staff, and faculty, but to try and create the kind of outstanding Cornell experience that we're known for.
So to that end, we've been thinking about the conditions that would need to be in place to allow in-person teaching for most of our classes. Peter Frazier's group, with their collaborator, David Shmoyes, has begun modeling these conditions. And they, of course, depend on the degree of vaccination of our community, something that's very difficult to predict. As you know, I want to stress that we've had zero transmission in our classrooms heretofore. And our goal will be to produce conditions that provide us with an equivalent level of safety in terms of transmission risk in the classroom in the fall.
We're hearing a lot of good things on the vaccination front. Tompkins County Health Department is feeling very good about availability in March and April. And we're hearing that all student-facing faculty and staff will be able to be vaccinated in late spring or early summer. That's a prediction. Of course, things could go south. But we're hopeful that that will occur.
However, still a major uncertainty is the degree to which our students will be able to be vaccinated and fully immune by the time they return in the fall, as well as the prevalence nationally and locally of COVID-19 at that time. So at this point, Lisa is working with faculty in the Curriculum Planning Group to program fall courses, setting the time and location of fall classes without specifying the mode of instruction. We'd like as much of that instruction to be in-person as possible. But that will only occur if conditions are safe enough to allow it. We'll hold off on any of those decisions until the last possible moment.
I know there will be many questions about this. I know people are asking will we mandate vaccines for students? Will we require in-person teaching? We haven't made any decisions about them.
We'll discuss those together as time goes forward. And we'll make those decisions as conditions warrant. So with that, I'd like to turn it to Wendy to introduce herself and to start asking questions.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks, Mike. I know it's hard to make predictions. But that all sounds like good news. So I'm relieved. I imagine everybody is glad for a little bit of good news.
So most of you will know me. I'm Wendy Wolford. I'm the vice provost of international affairs, happy to moderate this today. We got a few dozen questions in advance. And we'll address as many of those as possible.
But you all know the drill. Just put questions in the Q&A box as we go. Panelists will either answer them over the next hour or we'll follow up afterwards.
So to pick up where Mike left off, the first questions, and really a lot of the questions in the pre-submitted ones, are around vaccination. So to take Mike back to that and to specifically ask a question that was put in this way in the pre-submitted questions, Mike, what is Cornell doing to expand the list of people who are eligible for vaccination? There is evidence that SUNY campuses have a broader definition of in-person instruction than just what is on our roster. Can we push for more flexibility and also for approval of staff who, in many cases, have more contact hours than some teaching faculty?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, we have pushed for flexibility here. And Gary Koretzky meets regularly with Frank Kruppa, the director of public health for Tompkins County. And that's been a very productive relationship.
We have, for example, been able to have our many of our residential instructors that are our student facing, many of our staff that are involved with student education, as well as our in-person faculty eligible for vaccinations. We've also been able to get our dining workers eligible. And we've been able to get our testing personnel both in the testing lab and the individuals that are handing you the swabs, all of those we've been very aggressive about.
We have pushed the state for staff that are not in this category of teacher. And so far, the state has resisted that. That is true for the testing that's-- for the vaccination that's going on the SUNY campuses as well.
I will just add that that vaccination in those-- on the SUNY campuses are really just-- they are state vaccination sites. They are places where the state is standing up vaccination. Universities are not controlling who gets vaccinated. The state has designated who gets vaccinated and they're using those sites to do that.
We've applied for what's called POD status, point of distribution status. And we're hopeful that we'll be able to get that granted, particularly when it comes to focused vaccination of our students. That's what it's looking like now, that when students are finally in the eligible category, perhaps they will turn to places like Cornell to efficiently vaccinate our student body.
WENDY WOLFORD: Mike, related to that, is there any sense of timing for when we might be a point of distribution for staff?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Again, no indication of that. I do think it's likely to be late in this process. And I just will say that for staff, I think that we will see, as I said in my introductory comments, throughout this month, April and May, we will see an opening of a registration to other categories and substantial increase in vaccine availability. That's not coming from me. It's coming from our public health officials who are plugged into this.
So I'm optimistic about that. Of course, things could happen there. But I do think it's one of the reasons we want to wait a little bit. My expectation is that by the fall, everyone in these categories, all our student-facing faculty and staff at a minimum will be fully immune.
WENDY WOLFORD: Great, thanks. Another question about vaccination, but this time for Gary. This is a question coming in. Is there any reason why the Daily Check system or other systems are not including questions about vaccination? A number of community members have been vaccinated or are starting to be vaccinated. And tracking this information could be valuable. Gary?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, that is-- sorry. That is a great question. Thanks, Wendy. And it's obviously one we're thinking a lot about.
And so I want to take it in two parts. The first part is relating to the-- to the Daily Check and vaccination in the Daily Check. Individuals who are vaccinated should still do the Daily Check. Individuals who are vaccinated might be symptomatic and might be symptomatic for COVID. That does happen post-vaccination or for another reason. And we really encourage everybody to answer the questions in the Daily Check appropriately, honestly, and then have the telehealth visit if you turn red.
Make sure, though, that when you have a telehealth visit that you tell the provider that you've been vaccinated. That will absolutely change what they recommend. And I think many of you know already that if one of the questions in the daily check is if you've been in contact with somebody who has COVID, if that's, in fact, the case and you were vaccinated, the providers that call you with the telehealth call will know that this will be recommended then to the health department not to ask you to quarantine. That's one of the changes that is already happening.
But, of course, the real question is knowing who on our campus has been vaccinated, because there are going to be many things that we're going to be able to do. And knowing who's vaccinated and who's not becomes critically important. So that's become a very active conversation.
We know that we want to do this and need to do this. And we're trying to figure out the best way to do it so that it's seamless, it's easy, that it respects all of the confidentiality that's appropriate, recognizing now that there are three different types of vaccines. They've got different administration schedules. They've got different dose regimens, and knowing that individuals will have been vaccinated in New York State, in other states, and abroad.
So we're working out the system. So those systems will hopefully be in place soon. And then we'll be able to act on that information in a very transparent way that's actually appropriate for everybody in the community, not to say that we're-- we just urge everybody get vaccinated as soon as possible. And once the system's in place, we'll ask for you to disclose that information so that we can use it for our planning.
WENDY WOLFORD: Great. I know that's really complicated. But then the follow-on question that has come up now a few times in the Q&A here is whether or not there will be some relaxation of restrictions for those who have been vaccinated. Could people who have been vaccinated have more on-campus access?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, that is a question on everybody's mind. And the answer is absolutely, of course, at some point. Right, that's exactly what we're striving for. Everybody is incredibly eager for these restrictions to be relaxed.
And vaccination is a key part of it. But it's not the only part. It's also local prevalence. Once local prevalence goes down, it's a lot easier for there to be activities on campus.
It's the local vaccination rate and the vaccination rate of individuals. So we are absolutely sure that there will be changes in restrictions. We ask people to be patient, that they will come along.
In fact, we've already established-- Mike has impaneled a group to meet. And that group is going to first come up with guidelines. What do we think about local prevalence? What do we think about vaccination rates? What do we think about how we can modify the environment for individuals who have been vaccinated that's fair and appropriate and safe?
And I'll just mention that I think probably at the end of this week, the CDC is going to publish some guidelines for individuals who have been vaccinated. We'll look at those really carefully. That will be part of the guidepost. But, of course, we'll make decisions that we think are most appropriate for the Cornell community.
WENDY WOLFORD: In addition to the question about vaccination, people are interested in knowing what our access to campus will be like whether or not they're vaccinated in the near future. So the questions are when will we be able to go back to our offices on campus? And when can we organize more gatherings, whether they're socially distant gatherings or otherwise on campus?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, and again, questions that are really important for everybody. We're still operating under the rubric of making sure that if people do come to campus that they're enrolled in the Daily Check, that they're part of the testing system. So those who have not been on campus, I want to remind everybody that to become a member of on-campus community, it's critical that you participate in the testing program and also in the Daily Check.
But also, all of our units, all of our buildings have reopening plans that are still in place, that there are still restrictions on the extent of building occupancy. So there is already an opening up of ability to come to campus. But it's got to be done in a very controlled and thoughtful way.
And so my recommendation is, again, talk to your units. Talk to the HR units. Talk to your academic units about what the reopening plans are. That's true for graduate students. That's true for faculty. It's true for staff.
And there will be a gradual opening. But we're not opening the floodgates right now and have everybody come right back. I do feel like there is a national urge for things to open up. And it's completely understandable. And we just want to make sure we don't do it too fast.
I'll just remind everybody, we had weeks in the fall when we had zero cases on campus. We haven't had weeks yet in the spring with zero cases. We haven't had days with zero cases. There's still cases every day. So we do need a little bit of time to really extinguish virus on campus, to reduce the prevalence and ensure everybody's safety.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Wendy, I-- sorry, I mistakenly hit Answer Live for David Williamson's question. I had some undergraduate TAs who helped with an in-per- with in-person sections. Are they eligible for vaccine? If so, how can they get a letter certifying their eligibility?
I believe they are eligible if they are teaching in person. Is that correct, Gary?
GARY KORETZKY: Yes, so that-- and this is something that Lisa has worked on very carefully, that when students, if they are doing in-person education, they will fall under that category. But that really should be vetted very carefully through Lisa and others. And then the way they will be notified of that is that then they'll be able to get a letter from Cornell attesting to the fact that they meet that criteria.
It will be important, though, that that doesn't get them the vaccine. That makes them eligible for a vaccine. In fact, this week, though, Tompkins County will be vaccinating in-person college educators so that there's enough vaccine, there's more vaccine this week in Tompkins County than in any previous week. And that category, those individuals will be able to participate in the vaccination programs.
WENDY WOLFORD: Gary, I know that you said that people who were vaccinated will still need to fill out the Daily Check. Did you also speak to whether or not people who were vaccinated will need to continue being tested?
GARY KORETZKY: Yes, for now that's still the case. And in very large part, Wendy, that's because we don't know who's been vaccinated and who's not. So we do need a system in place so that we can then easily take people out of the Daily Check once we have all of the information that's necessary. So we are asking people to continue to be in the testing program as long as they're on campus, to follow the guidelines through the Daily Check.
And again, as I mentioned, if individuals do come in contact with somebody with COVID, we don't make quarantine decisions. Those are made by Tompkins County Health. When Hopkins County Health realizes that they have been vaccinated and it's two weeks past their last vaccine and they're not symptomatic, they will not be asked to quarantine. But that's not in our hands. That's in the health department's hands, and very importantly, because we don't yet have information about everybody who has and has not been vaccinated.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. One more question for you, Gary, and this is a very specific question. It's from a person who says that they feel comfortable eating by themselves in a closed office that is only shared with their lab mates and is wondering whether or not they can eat in their offices just with their lab mates soon.
GARY KORETZKY: Not yet. I just have to remind everybody that gatherings are risky. And we know that people know each other well, they're lab mates. But people still get COVID.
And they get COVID, and it's not because you're not careful. It's not because you've done anything wrong all the time, that this is a highly, highly transmissible virus. And you might be asymptomatic.
And I just hope people can be patient a little bit longer, that all of this will change, but not quite yet. And that's one of the most potentially dangerous things that people can do. So we would just ask people to wait.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. A set of questions about access to campus and teaching-- this one for Lisa, when will in-person instructors or lecturers be allowed to take off their masks and lecture without a mask?
LISA NISHII: Good question. I think as our famous alumnus, Dr. Fauci, has said repeatedly, that there's a good chance that will continue to be advised to wear masks through the fall semester. It's important to keep in mind that at a minimum, we'll continue to follow government guidelines and regulations about mask wearing, although we will also continue to monitor the situation carefully ourselves, to make sure that we have all the necessary precautions we need here on campus to keep our community safe. So like Gary said, it will happen, but not yet. And we have to continue watching both guidelines and the data.
WENDY WOLFORD: Great and the question about access to campus for graduate students for Kathryn, when will graduate student offices be open? Kathryn, you're on mute.
KATHRYN BOOR: Yes, I am. I was. So thank you. Also a terrific question.
And, in fact, what's possible right now is that graduate students are allowed back into their offices, but they must be included in their department or their unit's reactivation plan. They also must be in the Daily Check on a daily basis. And they must be in the testing protocols.
So in other words, they need to have communicated with their department or their unit to make sure that they're involved in the plan for the occupancy density of the building. And they must be in the routine testing protocol. Under those conditions, graduate students are allowed back onto campus and to use their office space. They also must continue, of course, to wear masks and to maintain social distance.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks, Kathryn. Gary, I'm going to throw it back to you or Mike for another question about vaccinations. Sorry, there are just a number about this that have come in over this past few minutes in the live chat about vaccination for people who on campus may be thrown into situations where they are with groups of people, student facing. So if they are expected to be in spaces where they come into contact with other students, does that make them eligible for vaccination?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, I'll take this one, Gary. Unfortunately, the state guidelines are pretty clear here. And we have pushed on this point, but you really have to be engaged in instruction. So this is not something that is in our ability to control. And that group, as I'm hearing in the description, is not included in state guidelines.
Let me just say that we have staff who have more contact with students than perhaps our instructors. And they also-- are custodians and people that are in our dorms, they also have not been included in this category. And it's upset a lot of people. It's just outside of our control.
GARY KORETZKY: And Wendy, I'll add, Mike mentioned earlier that we meet regularly with Frank Kruppa, who's the director of Tompkins County Health. And I'd just like to say he's been a phenomenal partner in all of this. And we talk through all of these things.
And I am absolutely convinced that as the state permits things, that we will interpret them as liberally as appropriate and as possible. And we'll have a great partnership with the county. And it's not for lack of trying. There's just a tremendous pent-up need still for vaccination and still too few doses.
WENDY WOLFORD: Yeah, pent-up seems to describe it well. So a set of questions going back to the theme of access to campus and other issues, this one is for graduate students. And I know Kathryn has been working on these, but they're specific to a couple of systems.
So I'm going to ask Lisa, and then Gary can jump in, a series of questions-- why are graduate students subject to the same Behavioral Compact as undergraduates? Can you require grad students to fill out the Daily Check only when they come to campus, as you do for staff, as opposed to every day? And can you eliminate the Behavioral Compact for graduate students not enrolled in in-person classes and ease in-person gathering restrictions for graduate student groups?
LISA NISHII: OK, so the first part of that was can-- do we have to continue to require that grad students complete the Daily Check every day rather than just the days when they come on campus? And the reasoning behind this, the reason why all students are required to complete the Daily Check every day is that they often live with and socialize with other students. So whether or not they're coming to campus, the concern is that if they end up becoming ill, the chances that they might transmit the virus to others in the Cornell community or that others would be identified as a close contact, and therefore be required to quarantine, is higher.
And so the Daily Check provides us with a mechanism for tracking symptoms and then following up with students with these telehealth visits. So that's the rationale. And when we think about employees, the notion is that when they're away from campus, when they are away from Cornell, they're more likely to be living away from other Cornell-- members of the Cornell community, for example, with family.
Of course, we know that there are grad students who live with family or live alone and not with other students. And also there are Cornell employees who have a lot of contact with other members of the Cornell community. But overall, we felt that it was safer to err on the side of caution when developing the system.
Daily Check has proven to be useful to us in this regard. And it's really not so onerous. I actually, out of habit, I complete it every day. And I think it takes no more than 20 seconds in the morning.
But I also want to point out that there are grad students who are not enrolled in any classes and they're not doing any TA work or anything like that. And so they're not coming to campus and have requested an exemption from the Daily Check and testing program. And we have granted those exceptions. And so in this way, we're trying our best to accommodate those students who really have no contact with our campus community while balancing the need to keep our community safe.
So the second question was whether or not we can eliminate the Behavioral Compact for grad students who are not enrolled in any in-person classes. And to that, I would say that whether or not someone is enrolled in in-person classes is not a very good proxy for whether or not they are on campus and interacting with other people. So that's why we decided that all students need to be aware of our public health and safety policies and that agreeing to the behavioral compact is a way of making sure that they understand what they are. We know that there are a lot of students who are not enrolled in classes who regularly come to campus to meet with their advisors, to do their research, and things like that. So that's why we have all students sign the Behavioral Compact.
And the third part of the question was can we ease up on in-person gatherings for graduate students? And to that, I would say that the restrictions on gatherings apply similarly to faculty, staff, and students, where we're limited to a maximum of 10 people. However, fitness centers are open. But they're open for students only, undergraduate and graduate students, not currently open for faculty and staff. But like Gary said, we do hope to ease up on the restrictions when conditions allow
WENDY WOLFORD: Gary, do you want to add anything to that?
GARY KORETZKY: I think Lisa said it all. I'll just add one other thing, because we get questions like this a lot. And I just really want people to appreciate that the restrictions aren't meant to be punitive. They're really meant to be protective. And we know that it's an inconvenience. And we know doing the Daily Check each day is a bit of an inconvenience.
But we also know it's helped. It's made a big difference. And I do think that we should just take a deep breath and a step back and see where we are now and how far we've come. And it's really because people have done the things that have been asked of them, and not always happily, but with amazing compliance. And that's what's made this possible.
And it's tiring. And the days are getting longer. We should be reveling now, right? But we're not quite there. So I hope that people will appreciate that.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thank you, Gary. Moving now to questions around making progress either to degrees or in one's career, this one is for Kathryn about graduate students. Do you have thoughts on how research degrees students should address these inevitable delays or unavoidable delays in their dissertation schedule due to the pandemic? So there might be multiple reasons why a dissertation would be delayed. But specifically, there are some that have been unavoidable caused by the pandemic. Do you have any recommendations for how research students might address those delays?
KATHRYN BOOR: So thank you, Wendy. And first and most importantly, it's so important that our graduate students are in regular contact with their advisor. And so they should be reviewing with them on a regular basis where they're running into obstacles with regard to their progress or where they're able to make achievements.
And so that constant communication is absolutely essential in terms of progress. In some cases, particularly where a student needs to travel or needs access to materials that simply have been unavailable, perhaps it would be a good time to also meet with your advisor and to talk about whether or not a redirection might be the best approach for that particular project. And in some cases, changing an emphasis or changing an approach might be the most appropriate way toward progress toward the degree.
And then finally, the third element of that is that the graduate school is working directly with graduate fields to look at resources for helping students, continuing students in terms of funding and so forth by repurposing, in some cases, some of the fellowships that previously we were using for recruitment, to try to put some resources toward helping students continue in their programs. So the point is flexibility in terms of the way that you're thinking about your program, communication with your advisor absolutely essential, and then really working on an individual basis to make sure that you are able to do whatever you can toward your degree.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks, Kathryn. This question is related. There were a couple of questions submitted beforehand from graduate student TAs who were seeing very high rates of mental health challenges in their students in their classes, and at the same time being asked to do much more themselves from their advisors or from their instructors and suffering under the weight of all of that. So can you address any of the mental health challenges?
KATHRYN BOOR: Sure. And so it would be-- this is a very appropriate time for all of us in the community to familiarize ourselves with the resources that Cornell University has available, not only for mental health issues, but also for physical health. And so, in fact, if you look at the Cornell Health website, there's a 10-minute overview, online program there that really lays out for you what are the resources that we have.
In terms of our students who are responsible for-- our graduate students who are responsible for working with students or our faculty who are responsible for working with students, there's also another online program called Notice and Respond, assisting students in distress. And so that's a 30-minute program, also online, to help provide you with some guidance there if you're noticing that students that you're working with, that you're responsible for are running into trouble. Specifically if you're concerned about a student, our counseling and psychological services, otherwise known as CAPS, those counselors are available to assist regarding students who are in distress.
And you can find the phone number for that under our Cornell Health Services. They're available around the clock. You'll get a call back within 30 minutes if you're calling after hours. And so we also have a community consultation and an intervention program that also helps with students who are in distress. And so an instructor or a graduate student TA can work with the students.
And finally and most importantly, it's really important that each person evaluate how they're doing, how their personal health is. Are they sleeping? Are they eating well? Are they getting some exercise? Are they occasionally getting outdoors? And so I urge all of us, each and every one of us to do that sort of evaluation, frankly, on a daily basis to connect with Cornell's resources if you need help, including with, for example, our Let's Talk program, where you can connect in with someone who can talk through things with you if you need that and to make sure that you are taking good care of yourself.
If a student is finding that there simply are not enough hours in the day to balance and manage all of their responsibilities-- let's say they're a TA but they're also doing their own research-- the most important thing they can do is to speak, again, with their major advisor to talk about the challenges that they're facing. If that is not helpful in resolving the issues, they can speak with their director of graduate studies and then their department chair. If that is not successful in resolving their issues, that can certainly come to the graduate school and speak with us if they're still running into challenges that way.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks. That's excellent, Kathryn. And Mike, for you, too, related to research and progress, can you talk about what the university is doing to address the negative effects of COVID on tenure programs for faculty?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yes. So we met on this issue a couple of weeks ago with the deans. Many of the faculty will know we did a six-month, one-semester extension in terms of the tenure review period. We've agreed to make this a one-year extension.
We also tried to balance this if individuals do not want to take advantage of either six months or a year, they feel like their research has not been impaired-- and we know that there are differential effects on people-- they can come through at the regular time without having a rationale of coming up early, for example. But we're trying to do as much as we can to make sure that people that are impacted by this, either through inability to pursue research, to pursue field opportunities for their discovery and research and scholarship, or to be out in the field for agricultural research, all of that impacts a lot of our faculty. And so we've tried to extend for that.
I will also say that individual colleges and departments have collaborated on teaching relief, on administrative service relief, depending on the kinds of impacts of individuals here. We have other types of support as well. We've got support for online instruction technology.
We've tried to put in place technical support for faculty as well, as well as child-care support and grant-writing support and even we have a bridge funding program that's the Refresh Program. I'll put that in the chat as well in terms of support for faculty research. So a lot of support structures, understanding this is a once-in-a-lifetime impact and the university needs to respond to it.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, great. A question now related to teaching for Lisa-- I guess it's more related to enforcing policies around teaching. The question is I'm teaching in-person and the instruction mode is listed as in-person. From the start, I've had Zoom going for those who are in quarantine, isolation, or feeling ill.
But I feel like students are taking advantage of this and not showing up in-person, even if they don't have those excuses. So they're joining through Zoom instead. I assume I can't insist that they join in-person, correct?
LISA NISHII: Actually, as part of the Spring Checklist, students signed an agreement called the Classes and Activities Agreement that says that other than when in isolation or quarantine, they're expected to participate in their classes in a way that's consistent with the instruction mode listed for the class in which they enrolled. Sorry, that was a really long and clunky sentence. But essentially, students who chose to enroll in in-person classes can be expected to participate in-person unless they're in mandatory quarantine or isolation. And I know that some faculty have been providing Zoom links individually to students who need them rather than making them available to everybody.
But I would just also remind faculty, though, that students may present other legitimate reasons why they can't attend class in-person on a particular day. And I know that they have been really, really appreciative of faculty who respond to such requests with compassion and understanding about their circumstances. But in terms of policy, yes, it is OK to expect them to attend in-person.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. For Gary, another question about enforcing policies on campus with undergraduate students-- one of the issues that was raised in the questions was the difficulty that graduate students in particular face in wanting undergraduate students to respect the mask policy in their buildings, the feeling that they don't have the authority to enforce the policy when they see students walking around without masks on. So just looking for what you would recommend.
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, Wendy, you always ask me easy questions. This is a really, really tough one because it's uncomfortable, right? So let me just remind everybody what the policy is, right?
The policy is that if you're in public and you can't socially distance, even when you're outside, you wear a mask. Inside you wear a mask whenever you're in any public space in that building. So unless you're in your own office, you're wearing a mask-- bathrooms, hallways, common shared rooms.
So what do you do when somebody is not wearing a mask? Well, it is tough. But people, we hope, will feel empowered to talk with their colleagues, right, that we're all in this together. But I know that's hard.
I'm going to ask Matt to put a few things in the chat. There are some websites that you might be interested in looking at. The Skorton Center has put out something really, really useful. And it's how do you have these difficult conversations? So there are a number of different websites that people could look at if they want to get advice and to actually have those conversations.
But, of course, not everybody's going to want to do that. And not everybody should feel compelled to do that. And so the Skorton Center and the MPH program have really worked very hard in looking at behavioral modification.
There are behavior modification or behavior monitor folks. Most buildings have them. The colleges have identified those individuals so that we can-- and there are ways to help find out who those individuals are. And you can alert them to your concern.
And even on the Daily Check, there's a button. If you have a concern that's a consistent concern and you're very uncomfortable having a conversation with somebody in-person, you can alert the Response Center that you've identified this and then they will take action. So we'd encourage people to feel comfortable talking with each other.
And there are advised ways that people can be suggested to have those conversations. But there are other ways where you can make sure that your concerns are known. We don't want people to feel uncomfortable, certainly.
WENDY WOLFORD: That's great to know. I didn't know that about the Daily Check, that you can access somebody to ask for advice. So a couple of questions for Emmanuel around research. One is what is the process for undergraduate students who aren't on a faculty reactivation plan to get access to campus facilities?
EMMANUEL GIANNELIS: Yeah, thanks, Wendy. That's really a good question. And as you said, we already have a process for undergraduates who are part of a research group to access the laboratory. So that's something that people are already aware of and following the rules.
But there is another category, where some undergraduate students need to use a facility for their project or for some other activity and they don't have a faculty sponsor. I think for that, what they need to do it they need to go directly to that facility or the facilities that they need to use where they can be [INAUDIBLE] their part of reactivation, because we allow these facilities to have their own plans that we approved at the center. And so I will encourage then those students who don't have what I would call a faculty sponsor to go directly to the facility that they need to use-- it would be more than once-- and then be [INAUDIBLE] that part of those facilities.
And I think then access will become-- it will be the same as before, of course, following all the other rules, the Daily Check and the testing and everything else that needs to happen. But I think it's doable. And I encourage people to look directly into those units for help.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, great. Emmanuel, we have postdocs on the call today. And there were a couple of questions submitted beforehand from postdocs who felt that as new people, relatively new people to Ithaca, they were somewhat isolated and didn't have all of the resources that they might normally have had to assist them in their work. So can you speak to any university networks or resources that postdocs can access for support?
EMMANUEL GIANNELIS: Yeah, thank you, again, Wendy, and another great question. Let me just start by saying that I was a postdoc myself at another institution millions of years ago. But more importantly, I do have a big cohort of postdocs in my own group. So I am definitely sensitized to these issues. They definitely speak to me because I see that in my own group.
And so what I would say is that it is true that we have recognized this as an issue, as a problem, even before the pandemic, where the situation probably has made it even to be more challenging and more difficult. And it is true that we've been talking about doing some programming that will be targeted specifically to postdocs. Now, unfortunately, with the pandemic, our plans got sidetracked a little bit. And we are certainly trying to bring some of them back into focus.
And so what I would say is at this point, there is the Office of Graduate Studies in the Graduate School. And Kathryn Boor is, as the dean of the Graduate School, oversees that office. And there is some programming that is happening there.
I would also say that we have a large number of postdocs, and we probably ought to increase the number of activities. And that's, in fact, what we've been discussing right now. It is not available yet.
But please stay tuned. We hope to have some of these instituted soon, and hopefully not just because of the pandemic, but actually to make that as an ongoing activity. And Kathryn, if you'd like to help me here as someone from your office, please.
KATHRYN BOOR: Thank you, Emmanuel. And, in fact, I strongly encourage any postdoc who is on this webinar today to please connect with the Office for Postdocs that is in the Graduate School for the type of programming that we have available and for some assistance with networking with other postdocs across the university.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thank you both. OK, we have just 10 minutes left. And so for these 10 minutes, we have a series of questions looking forward. So ending the town hall where Mike started us off, which is for the future, the first one is to Mike about graduation. Has Cornell decided anything about the graduation ceremony at the end of May?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yes, unfortunately, not yet. I can tell you some options that we're considering. And we've had this discussion only recently with the deans and the President's Cabinet. But right now, state regulations allow us to have stadia occupied at 10% density.
And so we do-- we would have an option of having what would effectively be multiple commencements for our students, where a couple of colleges would participate in one, then there would be another, then there would be another, and perhaps even a fourth to get enough students in. That would not allow us to have parental visitors. We would not have visitors coming to campus and the risk associated with that.
Given where we are now, that's what the state regulations would allow us. And we have to-- again, it's one of those things we have to begin to plan. So we're telling people not to make travel plans to Ithaca. And our current thinking is that this option of having individuals' family participate remotely, but having the students that are currently in Ithaca be part of the graduation ceremony is one of the things that we're thinking about and now talking to our stakeholders and many individuals about.
So that's a little bit of a preview. Again, no decision, clearly, no decision has been made. But that's what is technically legal today.
WENDY WOLFORD: Yeah, and that's some very creative thinking around the possibilities. Looking forward, a second set of questions on travel. I'll take very quickly the question on international travel, which is when will we be able to engage in non-essential international travel again? As you all know, we have right now a policy in place where undergraduate Cornell travel internationally is prohibited and graduates and faculty need to apply for permission, basically an exception to the general prohibition, if they have essential research that needs to be conducted overseas.
I think at this point, we don't see that changing in the near future. We have said that on March 15, we will update our international travel policy, looking at program travel for the summer and for the fall. And we are going to update that policy as we have new information coming in from the CDC and other sites.
So if you look at the international travel site, it is very detailed as to the factors we have to take into consideration in allowing international travel again. So for the time being, we are not going to change the policy that disallows non-essential travel. But I will turn it over to Gary to answer a question about domestic travel and when we'll be able to engage.
GARY KORETZKY: Sure. And again, this is a moving target, of course. And a lot of this is going to depend upon local and national prevalence and also vaccination status. So certainly, there'll be travel in our intermediate future. I think that a large part of this will depend upon how quickly people can become vaccinated.
Certainly, if you're a contact of somebody with COVID and you don't have to quarantine if you're vaccinated, well, that's the real risk of travel, is coming into contact with others with COVID. So as these guidelines get promulgated, and like I said, the CDC is going to put forward guidelines, I think, by the end of this week, we'll be thinking about them. We'll be adopting them. But it won't be immediate.
And the prevalence in the country, there were 300,000 cases a day six weeks ago. There are 50,000 cases a day now. If the trend continues, everything will really change in a very positive way.
But we're mindful of the environment. We're mindful of the variants. Everybody knows all of the concerns. And we're paying attention.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: And I'll just add on that one, Wendy, that we are asking the state these questions continually. We're looking for guidance on some of these areas. They've given, as Gary's described, the guidance on quarantine but not yet on travel.
We're working, as Gary described, very closely with our public health partners and our hospital partners. But unfortunately, we're also at the-- subject to the requirements of the state. And they haven't clarified some of these issues.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. This is another question looking forward to the fall for Mike. I don't know that everybody feels this way, but in this question, the person says being able to work from home has introduced a better work-life balance than has ever been possible at Cornell. I'm afraid that the end of the pandemic will mean an automatic return to work pre-pandemic, which isn't necessarily a good thing for some of us. So how might Cornell allow for a more hybrid work experience in the coming years?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, that is an interesting question, an interesting take on this. Let me just say that a lot of the questions that I've heard are around individuals understandably chafing a little bit, looking for some more access to the campus, ability to come back, et cetera. And we're trying to damp that a little bit, be responsive, but also be cautious, appropriately cautious to protect the public health.
At some point, that protection of public health is going to be covered by immunity. And we're going to pivot back to normal. Now, I think the question asked, and I agree, that post-COVID normal is not going to be the same as pre-COVID normal. We've learned a lot of things through this.
There's a lot of people that have worked very effectively from home. We're going to take advantage of that. We're going to use that in creative ways in terms of utilizing our space efficiently, trying to give people flexibility where that's possible.
We think that many of the innovations that you as faculty and graduate students have been part of in terms of teaching, we're going to take advantage of that on into the future. But I also have to say that at some point, we're going to get back to the responsibility of providing the on-campus residential campus experience for our students that is vital. And part of that is contact with faculty, contact with graduate students, contact with postdocs. And so we are not likely to pivot to a situation where everybody has complete flexibility and complete options. But I also want to stress that we won't come out of this unchanged.
WENDY WOLFORD: No, that's for sure. Lisa, the final question to you about teaching in the fall, Michelle Cox has a question. In the fall, if we're all vaccinated and classes are face-to-face, couldn't we still have the option of teaching online or in hybrid if that makes sense for the course? And beyond that, what do you see as some of the changes potentially for fall instruction? There was a lot of love in the questions for the classroom assistants and wondering whether or not those might continue in the fall.
LISA NISHII: So I think in terms of instruction modes for the fall, this is still an ongoing discussion. There were some other questions, for example, related to language instruction, and so different courses where it may be difficult if everybody is masked and could we consider different instruction modes. So I think that we should continue these conversations. And some of these might be more of a case-by-case, I think, decision. I'll just say that for now.
And there's a lot of love for classroom assistants. That's great. If we are in the same class, same kinds of classroom setups, right, where we've got students in the classroom and we have students connecting remotely, I think that we will continue to try to provide as much support as we can to faculty.
But again, there's still so much up in the air. It's hard to say, really, what the mix of instruction modes or students in class versus online will be. So I think it's a little too early to say. I'm really happy to hear that people have found it useful, though.
WENDY WOLFORD: None of us are willing to predict anything beyond five or six days.
LISA NISHII: It's hard.
WENDY WOLFORD: Now, over to Mike for the last word.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Well, thank you very much. I see we're at time. I'll just end where I began, where we understand how difficult this has been for many people. I'm pleased to see people, some anxiousness about how we can return to normal. And I think better days are ahead. That's very clear.
We have to be careful about that transition. We have to be very intentional about it. And we're doing that. But we also want to make sure that we enable faculty to provide the best kind of education and also do the best kind of discovery and research possible. And so juggling that balance is what we're about right now.
But thank you. Thank everybody for your-- both your participation in this, but really more seriously about what everyone has done to make this semester successful. Thank you.
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Faculty, postdoctoral associates, and graduate and professional students gathered virtually to discuss teaching, research, the COVID-19 testing program, and coping with the pandemic, March 2 on Zoom. Panelists also shared early thoughts about fall 2021 planning. Panelists: Mike Kotlikoff, Provost; Kathryn Boor, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education; Emmanuel Giannelis, Vice President for Research and Innovation; Gary Koretzky, Vice Provost for Academic Integration; and Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Moderator: Wendy Wolford, Vice Provost for International Affairs.