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LI colleges planning for 'a much more normal' semester in the fall

The Nexus Building at Adelphi University in 2018.

The Nexus Building at Adelphi University in 2018. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Colleges and universities on Long Island will shift to more in-person instruction in the fall, administrators say, although plans could change if the COVID-19 pandemic worsens again.

Forced into remote instruction when the coronavirus hit campuses last spring, schools reopened in the fall with a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid instruction. Now, with widening availability of vaccinations and lower infection rates statewide, they are ready to return to a more normal academic year.

"Students are increasingly unhappy with being Zoom Post-it stamps on a screen and the type of interaction that happens," Hofstra University Provost Herman Berliner said. While the university is prepared to modify plans based on conditions in the fall, "At least the trendline now means we’ll be able to be much more in-person and it should be a much more normal semester."

There could be more in-person activity as early as this spring, he said, including club meetings and, if possible, an in-person commencement.

Next fall, he said, classrooms will be as full as public health guidelines permit. Hofstra's academic budget for 2021-22 lifts the faculty salary freeze and funds professor travel to conferences. And in another sign of normalcy, the 2021-22 calendar includes a spring break.

"We never had to close or go fully virtual and yet it is still not the full college experience," Berliner said about the current academic year. "If we get a handle on this pandemic, I think we will be able to give students the experience that they are looking for and our faculty is looking to give them."

Other LI campuses look ahead

Farmingdale State College anticipates face-to-face components in three quarters of its courses next fall, up from 15% now, spokesman Patrick Calabria said.

"This will permit nearly all of our students to have a substantial on-campus academic experience in classes and labs," he said, adding, "Naturally, this depends on COVID developments, but this is our plan."

Officials from Molloy College in Rockville Centre said the school intends to welcome students back to its classrooms and dorms in September, depending on guidelines in place then. "While no one has a crystal ball that can predict the future, Molloy’s intention is to offer fully face-to-face instruction in the fall," said spokesman Ken Young, adding that dorm occupancy now is about 55%, with 90% anticipated in the fall.

Dr. Steve Everett, Adelphi University’s provost and executive vice president, said the Garden City campus would increase in-person instruction in the fall "while still conveying the need for flexibility and possible adjustments as we adhere to evolving public health guidelines. We remain hopeful that the public health crisis will continue to improve in the months ahead, but are prepared for all possible scenarios."

At LIU Post in Brookville, nearly all classes have been offered in-person this academic year, and that likely will continue "as more Americans become vaccinated," chief administrative officer Joseph Schaefer said in a statement. The university, he said, would continue to coordinate with state and county health departments and "shape our plans based on real-world conditions and the guidance of public health experts."

This past fall, LIU Post was forced to switch to virtual instruction for two weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak among its students. But most local colleges have largely avoided outbreaks, though they have been seen on other campuses nationwide.

Guarded optimism at SUNYs

The SUNY campuses are evaluating their plans for the fall, including SUNY Old Westbury, where spokesman Michael Kinane said no firm decision is in place, although there likely will be more face-to-face instruction than the current 10%.

Stony Brook University is planning to operate primarily in-person this fall, consistent with state and federal public health and SUNY guidance, officials there said. The school is gradually returning to more in-person operations this spring, with 4,500 students living on campus and about a quarter of classes offered in-person or in hybrid modes.

"We have demonstrated that we know how to operate safely in person with low positivity rates," the university said in a statement, adding that the recent news of widely available vaccines by the end of May for all American adults "further supports our planning for primarily in-person operations this fall."

SUNY Albany administrators released a letter Monday announcing "plans to resume in-person instruction as our primary mode of course delivery" in the fall, and that sign-up for on-campus residence halls and apartments had begun.

Provost Carol H. Kim and Michael N. Christakis, vice president for student affairs, added that the shift back to "regular in-person instruction this fall" would be guided by federal and state public health guidelines, and that "Compliance with surveillance testing, mask-wearing and expanded vaccine availability will continue to be essential elements for the health and safety of our campus community."

Holly Liapis, a SUNY spokeswoman, said the central SUNY administration would provide guidelines and approve campus plans closer to the fall in light of conditions then. There are 64 SUNY campuses statewide.

"As we get closer, and we know more about what COVID may do next, we will plan for the fall based on the expertise of federal, state, and SUNY public health officials at the time," she said.

Meanwhile, the focus remains on keeping campuses safe five weeks into the spring semester. "To date, we have administered well over 1.2 million tests and our positive rate is at 0.53%, a good outcome that we want to see continue," Liapis said.

"We’re looking forward to turning the page and getting more of our students back on campus. But there is still a lot of work to do and planning to be done. The chancellor will work with our presidents and campus stakeholders on a fall 2021 plan and any contingencies campuses may need to take."

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