Columbia Undergrads to Go Full-Virtual for Fall Semester; Reopening Pushback Came from Several Groups

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger announced on Friday that the university will hold all of its classes online in the fall semester.

“There is the physical capacity to conduct many undergraduate courses in person, but students now will be living in so many locations, and under such varied circumstances, that online instruction is the only realistic approach,” Bollinger wrote. Among the problems — students would be coming from many states where they would be obligated to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Inside Higher Ed reported late last month that Columbia was having trouble finding professors who were willing to teach in person.

Columbia University, in the former coronavirus epicenter of New York, has promised that faculty members will teach in person in the fall on a voluntary basis only. But the university is having trouble finding enough professors to teach the students who say they’ll attend face-to-face classes.

Amy E. Hungerford, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, recently emailed professors “calling for your help to mount a more robust offering of in-person or hybrid courses to meet important student needs.”

In professors’ initial course submissions for the fall, Hungerford said, “We found that the vast majority of faculty and instructors elected to teach online only.” Yet the “provost and many deans had expected that faculty would be eager to return to the classroom if they did not have health or childcare considerations.”

Some have criticized Hungerford’s letter as trying to shame faculty into classroom teaching before it’s truly safe. The university declined to comment on the letter on the record.

And some residents of Morningside Heights had expressed concern about Columbia’s return too, given that it would bring people from all over the country and world – including from spots that have not contained the outbreak — to the neighborhood.

“Concerns about Columbia students returning to campus have been adopted by members of our community,” wrote Dave Robinson and Harry Schwartz, members of the executive committee of the Morningside Heights Community Coalition, in an op-ed in the Columbia Spectator. “Responses from 291 residents to a survey conducted by the MHCC indicate a preference for students not to return in the fall. Some respondents are skeptical that students will practice social distancing and that protocols for quarantining and testing can be strictly enforced.”

Elected leaders also urged in a recent letter that Columbia consider the surrounding community in their plans. “I am extremely glad that Columbia has made this decision for the good of their students and the surrounding neighborhoods, and I will continue engaging Columbia to ensure that our communities stay safe and protected,” wrote Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell in response to Columbia’s decision.

There will still be some students and faculty on campus. About 40% of Columbia’s graduate-level courses will still be held in-person or in a hybrid setting, though the model will depend on the school.

Bollinger said that he expects precautions around the pandemic “will continue in one form or another, in one degree or another, for an extended period.” The means the school will have to be flexible moving forward.

“Among them, we must be prepared to shift as conditions change. We should, accordingly, think of the decision about undergraduates and the fall term as part of a phased return,” he wrote.”We need to establish a sense of confidence among us, turn to our experts in public health for guidance, calibrate our sense of risk based on best evidence, think in terms of the common good, and talk—again and again.”

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 10 comments | permalink
    1. Wijmlet says:

      much safer this way

    2. Mike says:

      I’m glad that individuals from across the country and world will not be coming to Morningside heights. I also could not fathom paying Columbia tuition for zoom classes.

    3. Concerned citizen says:

      I wonder how this is going to impact local businesses in the Morningside Hts. area who likely depend on the student population for business, and are probably already suffering from the pandemic. It’s bound to be yet another blow to small business in retail and restaurants.

    4. Alex Snyder says:

      So that is the real truth. Professors not wanting to come back. Well, as a parent my kid will also not be coming back and take a leave of absence. This is the safest way but also the one without tuition income for the school from me.

    5. Concerned parent says:

      In light of the many changes affecting students, Columbia is urged to consider opening a window of time whereby students may apply for and be given a deferral year, as many other colleges have done. As it stands, Columbia has applied a “no exceptions” rule to their May 15th deferral deadline, despite the many devastating changes and alterations imposed since that date which seriously impact their students, especially incoming freshman.

    6. ST says:

      So what’s Malin gonna protect? Ha ha

      • World Peacenik says:

        Malin’s timing was impeccable. I spoke with him over bears at the Riverside Boathouse before his retirement.

    7. Max G. says:

      This decision would have negative effects on business in the neighborhood, and likely increase crime due to less crowd and increased desperation. Why don’t we use Columbia’s classrooms as classroom for public school K-12 students? That will bring solution to reopening of the public schools and increase traffic in the area.

    8. Horace P. says:

      Great plan. Now CU can buy up all the real estate due to failing businesses and no jobs and fully expand to the river. Good going community board!

    9. Barnard Alumna says:

      I think everyone supports the decision to move online, but the way the school handled this was deplorable. I’ve been following the situation with Barnard, so while I assume it is the same with Columbia, I cannot concretely say so. Barnard made the announcement the day *after* tuition was due, after it was too late for incoming First Years to apply for a deferral. For current students who may want to take the year off, it is my understanding from that any student who takes off will not be guaranteed a spot in the ’21/’22 school year. (And as I understood from speaking with a current student, she cannot even take off the Fall semester without risking her status in the Spring.)

      The school originally required students to do a 2 week quarantine in hotels across NY prior to moving into their dorms. Many students have either begun this or have nonrefundable airline tickets. Because housing was to be limited, many students already signed leases with apartments around campus and are now stuck with those leases.

      The list of problems goes on and on. They’ve offered no compassion for students. There was absolutely no reason to wait until after the tuition deadline to make this decision.