COLLEGE STUDENTS RETURN
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – As college students began to return to COVID-19 Era instruction, Mayor Gary Herzig praised Hartwick College’s collaboration with the city, but said SUNY Oneonta has fallen short in three area of concern.
“We have a community here that established new norms over the past five months,” said Herzig. “There’s been much self-sacrifice in keeping our numbers low. It’s important to communicate directly to those in large numbers who are coming in the community, to familiarize them with current norms and the realities we face.”
He said the three points of contention are:
- One, Hartwick distributed a letter of welcome and instruction from the mayor through its internal communications to students, and posted it on the college’s social media, but SUNY Oneonta would not. College President Barbara Jean Morris “felt that it created an ‘us-vs-them’ environment, which I strongly disagree with,” said the mayor. The letter welcomes students, but also warns overcrowded house parties can bring $1,000 fines.
- Two, Hartwick College and Hillside Commons, the student apartments, agreed with City Hall’s decision to halt evening shuttle buses between the campuses and downtown, to reduce risks of COVID spread in crowded bars. Instead, SUNY’s Student Association and its adviser disagreed, and are negotiating with Hale Bus Co., Madison County, to continue evening runs, (albeit, for shopping in Southside Mall.)
- Three, President Morris, as of last week, was resisting participation in an “opt in” SUNY Upstate plan to “pool test” students, 20 at a time, for COVID. (It turns out the campus is participating in an innovative COVID-control collaboration; see related story, A1)
In an interview Monday, Aug. 17, Herzig announced the tip-line – (607) 376-7453 – that students and the public should call if they observe activities – parties, gatherings, flouting of social-distancing measures – that may assist the spread of COVID-19.
Pointing out the arrival of students – SUNY’s began arriving Monday; Hartwick’s this weekend – will double the city’s population, Herzig said, “We love our students. We need our students here. We are doing everything we can to minimize the risks, to keep students safe; to keep year-‘round people safe, so we all come out on the other side and return to life as normal.”
Hartwick students are required to live on campus; about half of SUNY students live on-campus, half off-campus.
College spokesman Kim McLeod, speaking on Morris’ behalf, disagreed with the mayor’s assessment of SUNY Oneonta’s participation.
On the first point, she said Bill Woodward, director of community standards, did write his own “extensive email” to “students in the Greater Oneonta community” detailing “point by point” provisions in Herzig’s welcome letter.
Also, she said, Herzig’s letter was posted on the SUNY Oneonta parents’ page.
On the second point, nighttime buses, McLeod said “students do have to shop and do things after classes.” Student Life Director and the S.A. have arranged shuttles to the mall and Walmart, 4-9 p.m. weekdays and noon-9 p.m. weekends. “I’m expecting that will turn out well as well,” she said.
On the third point, testing students, she arranged an interview with Lachlan Squair, chief of facilities & safety, who said the campus is using waste-water monitoring, testing and quarantining as necessary through its health center, and that it has decided to opt-in to the SUNY system’s collaboration with Upstate Medical in Syracuse.
In an interview, Herzig said , “Both campuses have excellent safety plans, which require students to sacrifice greatly while they are on campus.
“Dorm visits are greatly restrictive. Dining halls are non-existent or greatly restricted. Masks. Forgoing in-person classes.
“My position is that is all for naught if we don’t take the same approach and have the same intent when the students are off-campus. What’s the point of having extensive behavioral sacrifices on campus?”