SUNY Cortland president provides a big update on the remainder of school the year

SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum (photo provided).

The following is a message from SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum:

To the SUNY Cortland community,

All of us are sadly aware of the serious and constantly changing threat posed by the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The practice of social distancing, the key to slowing the spread of the virus, has become the new normal. In light of that, and with the advice of health experts and under the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, SUNY Cortland has made the difficult decision to transition away from face-to-face instruction for the remainder of the Spring semester. We will move all classes to distance learning, with the exception of a very small number of special circumstances.

We realize these developments may pose a challenge to many of our students and raise a number of questions. Please know that the driving force behind this and other recent decisions is concern for the continued health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and other members of the SUNY Cortland community. In addition, our action to continue classes through distance learning will help ensure that you can continue to receive an excellent education.

Status of on-campus housing

Although we had hoped to re-open residence halls by April 13, we are heeding the most recent advice of state and local health officials and strongly urging you to not return to campus. We recognize this may pose a challenge for some, and have created exceptions for students who fall into one of these categories:

  • International students and others for whom SUNY Cortland is their primary housing
  • Students who do not currently have a safe or healthy home environment
  • Students who have limited or no access to technology at home

These students must communicate their request to Residence Life and Housing prior to returning. The office will follow up with students via email with more information.

Cortland County is currently under a declaration of emergency due to COVID-19. Because of this, we are working with local health officials and emergency managers to create a scheduled process that permits students return to campus for their belongings while minimizing exposure risks. Residence Life and Housing will email details related to this procedure to students within the next 24 hours.

The date at which students retrieve belongings has no impact on potential prorated room refunds or credits. For that purpose, the official move-out date for all non-returning students, regardless of when they return for personal property, will be March 19.

Students should NOT return to campus before being notified to do so, unless they have been granted permission due to special circumstances. Anyone showing up at campus unexpectedly will not be allowed to retrieve their belongings. This is necessary to limit the number of people gathering on campus and in individual buildings.

We appreciate your patience and cooperation and will notify you when a plan is in place.

Refund or credit status

Please know that for students who will return in the fall, we intend to credit unused room and board fees for students who have returned home for the remainder of the semester. For students graduating in Spring 2020 or Summer 2020 refunds will be credited to their student account.

We are developing approaches to crediting certain unused fees to the accounts of students who will return in the fall and refunding fees to students who will graduate this spring. We want to be certain that we make decisions that do not jeopardize any student’s financial aid. This analysis will include study abroad costs.

It is important to remember that coursework will continued to be delivered. SUNY Cortland faculty are finalizing their distance learning plans and will begin providing classes online or through other remote methods starting March 30. Distance education will continue through the end of the semester. Students currently enrolled in online classes will not be impacted and will resume as scheduled on March 23.

Moving forward

Our top priority has always been the health and wellbeing of our students. That has never been put in sharper focus than now. All of us — as individuals, families, a university, a state and a nation — have a responsibility to take action to slow the spread of COVID-19, even if it requires sacrifice.

In that spirit, I want to appeal to the thousands of SUNY Cortland students who currently live off campus in privately leased apartments. We know many of you feel you have no choice but to return to Cortland. We appreciate that, but urge you to reconsider, if possible.

Only essential personnel are currently on campus, with the vast majority of faculty and staff working remotely. The Student Life Center is closed and dining service is dramatically reduced. Restaurants and other social establishments are closed or offering reduced services, and gatherings of large groups of people are strongly discouraged.

If you do return to Cortland, please remember that your actions are likely to impact the health of others, including  fellow students, older adults and those with underlying health issues who are likely to be more severely affected by the virus.

A decision on Commencement, currently scheduled for May 15-16, has not yet been made.

I urge all members of our community to visit SUNY Cortland’s COVID-19 resource and update page for more information and the latest developments. Above all, take action to remain safe and healthy and know that we will all get through this together.

All the best,

Erik J. Bitterbaum