News of Otsego County

Barbara Jean Morris

In Places Like Oneonta, Town Needs Gown And Vice Versa


In Places Like Oneonta,

Town Needs Gown, Vice-Versa

Both college presidents, SUNY Oneonta’s Nancy Kleniewski and Hartwick’s Margaret Drugovich, were key members of the City of Oneonta’s DRI committee. It was formed in 2015 to figure out how best to spent $10 million provided by Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

The committee, no doubt, benefited mightily from both leaders’ wisdom, experience working within institutions and calm demeanors; no bomb-throwers there. In turn, Kleniewski and Drugovich likewise benefited, no doubt, by getting to better know the city’s movers and shakers and the key issues facing the “City of the Hills.”

The City of Oneonta and the two colleges are joined at the hip, like it or not.

When the undergrads return each fall, the city’s population doubles, from 7,000 to 14,000. Problems – let’s call them challenges – always arise, ranging from public mischief of all sorts to actual crimes, from OH Fest to blowouts in otherwise quiet neighborhoods.

In the past, an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation helped the college presidents and top city officials work through the town-gown issues.

The tip-off that something was awry with the administration of Barbara Jean Morris, who departed abruptly two weeks ago after presiding over the largest on-campus outbreak of COVID-19 in the country,
happened a week before the cataclysm.

The president was declining to meet with Mayor Gary Herzig, to his dismay. And, after City Hall cancelled nighttime bus rides back and forth to campus, the Student Activities Office went ahead and leased buses through another company.

Bad omens.

When COVID exploded on campus after one particular party on opening weekend, Aug. 21-23, it was too late to build bridges.

When infections topped 100 on a single night the next weekend, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras stepped in and, in effect, assumed Morris’ decision-making authority until her resignation “to seek other opportunities,” submitted quietly 10 days before the Wednesday, Oct. 14, press conference announcing her successor, SUNY Purchase Interim President Dennis Craig.

SUNY Purchase may have dodged the bullet by happenstance: SUNY Oneonta opened a week earlier, seven days when “pool testing” – of 20 students’ saliva at once – quickly expanded so health officials could identify outbreaks sooner and drill down to “patient one” more quickly. Still, success is success:

Malatras credited Craig’s leadership with limiting campus infections to 25; astonishing, when you
think of what happened here.

Dr. Morris was likeable, at first blush dynamic, with a record of some success. Her formulation of a 13-word mission statement was brilliant: “We nurture a community where students grow intellectually, thrive socially and live purposefully.” It’s possible to mourn and, still, try to understand what happened.

Regrettably but necessarily, a college president faces many demands – from the faculty and staff, implementing SUNY-wide policies, maintaining buildings and grounds, law enforcement, relations with local state legislators and community leaders. It goes on and on.

Students and pedagogy are the fun part, but most of a college president’s duties aren’t fun.

It also might be that Morris didn’t understand COVID virulence, that she trusted 19-year-olds too much, that she didn’t realize that student care needed to take a back seat to public health – for days or weeks or months.

A telling indicator, perhaps, was her concern, expressed at a town-gown “Control Room” meeting, about the negative psychological impact on tender students of HAZMAT-suited EMTS knocking on dorm doors in the middle of the night to escort young people to isolation dorms.

Sympathy is fine, but a potentially life-and-death situation called for sterner stuff.

Things got away from Dr. Morris, and there was no one on her side apart from a loyal and admiring inner circle.

(It’s worth noting again that, where President Drugovich realized a successful response to COVID could be a life-and-death matter for Hartwick, the SUNY campus didn’t have to worry: Empire State taxpayers would continue funding SUNY, come what might.

(Hartwick kept total infestations to 21, or 2.9 percent of SUNY-O’s number, even though its enrollment is 25 percent of the larger school’s total.)

For the good of all, let’s, as a community, get behind President Craig, and give him all the support we can to help him duplicate his Purchase success here.

A final thought: When Barbara Jean Morris was recruited, her “two-fer” status – she was a woman and a Native American – was heralded.

By all means, hire whomever of whatever background. But chairman Patrick Brown and the College Council shouldn’t have stars in their eyes, distorted, if you will, by PC prerogatives.

They have a responsibility – to the campus and the Oneonta community; (City Hall alone is losing
$1 million in revenue per semester): Whoever succeeds Dr. Morris must be focused enough, tough enough, realistic enough, experienced enough to truly understand the daunting requirements of a college president’s job, and temperamentally able to handle them.

Getting that under control will allow the focus to return to raising the campus’ quality and reputation, which is what it’s all about.

New SUNY Oneonta President: We Need To Speak ‘Frankly’


New SUNY Oneonta

President: We Need

To Speak ‘Frankly’

Dennis Craig Aims To Apply

Lessons Learned At Purchase

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras convenes this morning press conference in the Morris Conference Center, where he introduced SUNY Purchase acting President Dennis Craig, to his left, as SUNY Oneonta’s interim president, succeeding Barbara Jean Morris.   At left are Oneonta Town Supevisor Bob Wood and City Mayor Gary Herzig; at right, Patrick Brown, chairman of the Oneonta College Council, who will lead the search for Barbara Jean Morris’ successor.  (Jim Kevlin/


SUNY Oneonta’s interim President Craig says he plans to look forward, not back.

ONEONTA – With the resignation of Dr. Barbara Jean Morris, new SUNY Oneonta interim president Dennis Craig is ready to hear both the good and the bad about how the campus can recover from the COVID-19 outbreak that infected more than 700 students less than week after classes resumed.

“I want to foster an atmosphere where everyone can speak frankly,” he said. “I want to get a back-and-forth dialogue going about what went wrong. People on this campus did a tremendous amount of work, and I appreciate that.”

Craig’s appointment was announced at a 12:30 p.m. press conference called by SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras.  “SUNY Oneonta is at a critical juncture and Acting President Craig will bring steady, focused, and collaborative leadership to the campus,” said Malatras.






Dennis Craig Presided At Purchase

After State’s First Major Outbreak

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, left, introduces new interim SUNY Oneonta president Dennis Craig, who successfully carried SUNY Purchase through the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak.  Barbara Jean Morris has transitioned out of the college presidency to pursue other opportunities, said Malatras. (Jim Kevlin/
9-10-20 Drugovich’s Hard Line Contrasts With Morris’


Drugovich’s Hard Line

Contrasts With Morris’

City Council member David Rissberger flashed up this photo of a party in a SUNY Oneonta isolation dorm during this evening’s Oneonta Control Group meeting.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Dr. Morris

ONEONTA – Hartwick College Margaret Drugovich has a message for students unhappy with the school’s stringent COVID-19 code of conduct.

“We’re asking the students who don’t want to follow our rules to volunteer to leave campus,” said Drugovich during a meeting of Mayor Gary Herzig’s Oneonta Control Room on Monday, Sept. 7. “As hard as it is to say, if you violate our rules, you have to be gone.”

The crackdown was in high contrast to SUNY Oneonta, where, with 701 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, Sept. 8, two weeks after asymptomatic students transmitted the virus at “several large parties” off campus, a photo of students partying last weekend in Tobey Hall, reserved for students who have tested positive for COVID-19, made the rounds on social media.

Currently, 43 students are quarantined on the campus, with 139 in isolation after testing positive for the virus.

In contrast to Drugovich’s hard line, SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris told the Control Room RAs check students during the day, University Police drive by, but in the evening, there is no adult in the building. “No one is inside,” she admitted.

Council member David Rissberger, Third Ward, voicing concern at the photo, said, “There’s no supervision, and the community needs reassurances that moving forward, something like this is not going to happen again.”

In a statement posted on the SUNY website, Morris also wrote that additional resources would be put in place to monitor the activity in the dorms.

“It is deeply disappointing that following the severe action SUNY Oneonta took just days ago to shift to remote learning for all students,” Morris wrote, “we are still faced with the reckless and irresponsible behavior of a few that are damaging the reputation of our campus and our dedicated students who followed the safety rules every day and were looking forward to a great semester on campus.”

When the students in the photo are identified, she said, they could face judicial review and possible suspension.

“Just because residence halls are closed, it’s still the fall semester and students are still accountable for their behavior,” said Franklin Chambers, vice president/student development. “The student code of conduct is still applicable.”

Following 11 positive cases at Hartwick, including a cluster of four in the Smith dorm, classes have been moved to online only and the dining hall has switched to take-out, effectively putting the campus on lockdown.

“We observed students moving dining furniture to be with one and other,” she said. “We couldn’t find an effective way to socially distance, so we moved to take-out as a precaution.”

Additionally, all residents of Smith Hall are on “precautionary quarantine,” as per a recommendation from the Otsego County Department of Health.

This week, five students were put on academic leave – in addition to the three sent home last week –after they were found with guests in their rooms, and a ticket was issued to such guests for trespassing.

“It’s very clear our campus is closed,” she said. “These individuals were not eligible to be on our campus.”

Academic leave withdraws the student from classes for the semester.

“Safety officers are now asking students to show ID,” she said. “It’s not a very Hartwick thing to do, and never in my 12 years as president did I think this would happen, but too many have tried to defy our boundaries.”

She continued, “Our success depends on the good judgment of everyone in the community,” she said. “And we will take swift action against those who do not comply.”

No Cases In City; SUNY Slows At 701


No Cases In City;

SUNY Slows At 701

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – Finally, some good news in the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mayor Gary Herzig prepares to be swabbed by a Bassett Healthcare nurse at the COVID rapid testing site in the Foothills atrium this evening. (Ian Austin/

“From what I can see, there is no community transmission,” Heidi Bond, public health director, Otsego County Department of Health, said Tuesday, Sept. 8, as the daily infections on SUNY Oneonta dropped to 16 from the Friday, Sept. 4, peak of 134.

Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 2, nearly 2,000 rapid tests were conducted at the three Oneonta testing sites – St. James Episcopal Church, Foothills and the Oneonta Armory – with 91 positives. Of those, 85 were in the 18-24 range – all college students.

The remaining nine were linked to the student population – family and friends, for instance, according to Mayor Gary Herzig. The SUNY Oneonta total as of Tuesday was 701; Hartwick College cases stood at 11, stable since Sunday.

“It does appear we caught this on time,” said Herzig. “We were able to prevent it from spreading to the non-student population.”

Additionally, none of the faculty and staff at SUNY Oneonta had tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began Aug. 25.

Herzig credits quick action following reports of “too many parties” on Saturday, Aug. 22. “The next day, I notified Governor Cuomo’s office about my concern, even before we had a positive test,” he said. “Within 24 hours, I had a call from Chancellor (Jim) Malatras, and the governor had redirected four test sites” – three downtown; a fourth at the college – “to Oneonta. It was very helpful.”

When Malatras implemented mandatory saliva testing, the infected students were quickly identified.
“All of these actions resulted in a swift response,” he said. “We knew who had contracted the virus and isolated them.”

Bond also credits mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing and other “personal, protective precautions,” to keeping the virus at bay.

“People have been taking more precautions since that unfortunate Saturday night,” said Herzig.

AT SUNY, the majority of the students are “mildly symptomatic,” with sore throats, congestion, coughs and fevers, said Bond. One has developed COVID-related pneumonia, but none have been hospitalized.

“The Chancellor’s decision to close the school” – he did so at a press conference on campus Thurday, Sept. 3 – “was the right one,” said Herzig. “Given the spread, it was clear that it couldn’t be contained.”

Bond warned that several off-campus SUNY students had been issued citations by the county Department of Health for violating quarantine after they were found to have been “outside of their residence.”

“You can face civil charges for violating quarantine,” she said. “And we’ve been working with the school on students who are found to be in violation of their quarantine. They have avenues as well.”
But she said the majority of the students had been compliant. “There has to be a level of trust there,” she said. “We’re monitoring more than 400 students.”

The Department of Health does random check-ins with students, and Oneonta Police have volunteered to do drive-bys of quarantined students living off campus to make sure they’re obeying the order.

However, Herzig did recognize the economic impact the closure may have on Oneonta. “This is going to hurt our local businesses and the city finances,” he said. “And these impacts will have to be addressed.”

Though the on-campus students who tested negative have been ordered to leave campus, those who live off-campus are welcome to remain, said Herzig.

“They’re residents of the city,” he said. “They pay rent, and no authority can order them to leave. We will have many students who will live here and continue to study, and we want to talk about how all of us can make sure we hold onto the gains that we have achieved.”

To that end, Herzig said, the state left four of the rapid-test machines behind, and he is working with the Department of Health to schedule another round of free testing.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” said Herzig. “Every one of us did our part, even if all you did was put on a mask. We have all acted together to prevent this from spreading out of control.”

At SUNY, It’s Partying; At Hartwick, Trespassing


At SUNY, It’s Partying;

At Hartwick, Trespassing

City Council member David Rissberger referenced this photo of a party in a SUNY Oneonta isolation dorm that was posted to social media over the weekend during this evening’s Oneonta Control Group meeting.  It painted contrasting pictures of SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College, where a total of eight students have been put on administrative leave and two tickets issued for trespassing.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – A photo circulating on social media, purportedly showing a party underway in SUNY Oneonta’s isolation dorm over the weekend, prompted a conversation about the differences in how SUNY and Hartwick colleges are handling the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantines.

“I’m concerned by this photo,” said Council member David Rissberger, Third Ward, during the second of Mayor Gary Herzig’s Oneonta Control Room meetings this evening. “There’s no supervision, and the community needs reassurances that moving forward, something like this is not going to happen again.”

Currently there are 651 total cases of COVID-19 at SUNY Oneonta; 43 students are quarantined on the campus, with 139 in isolation after testing positive for the virus.

‘Full Transition Plan’ Must Export 3,000 ‘Safely, Effectively’


‘Full Transition Plan’

Must Export 3,000

‘Safely, Effectively’

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras strides into this afternoon’s press conference, where he announced he’s closing the campus for the semester.  Behind him is campus President Barbara Jean Morris.  (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Malatras takes senior Chris Frommeyer’s contact information. Frommeyer asked tough questions today and at Sunday’s press conference, the chancellor said.

ONEONTA – After 100 students tested positive overnight to COVID-19, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras returned to the campus for the third time in five days to announce he’s closing SUNY Oneonta for the fall semester, shifting all instruction online.

President Morris will develop the transition plan.

“We will address the spring semester at a later time,” he added.

In a 2 p.m. press conference next to the Chase Gym testing center, Malatras said he’s directed campus President Barbara Jean Morris to develop “a full transition plan” over the next two weeks that is “safe and effective” in enabling the 3,000 campus students to leave Oneonta safely and go home without threat to their families and hometowns.

Students in “isolation” will remain on campus until it is safe for them to depart, he said.

BULLETIN: SUNY Campus Closes For Fall Semester





SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, left, announces the closure of the SUNY Oneonta campus for the remainder of the fall semester during a press conference this afternoon. At right is SUNY Oneonta president Barbara Jean Morris, who has been tasked with developing a “safe, effective’ transition plan.  Students in “isolation” will remain on campus until it’s safe to move them.   (Jim Kevlin/



‘Super Spreader’ Caused Outbreak, Morris Tells Reps


‘Super Spreader’

Caused Outbreak,

Morris Tells Reps

DOH’s Bond: ‘It Spread Like Wildfire’;

SUNY Cases May Hit 450, Lapin Says

SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris beamed in to the county board meeting in Cooperstown today via Zoom from her fifth-floor office of the campus’ Netzer Administration Building.

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

COOPERSTOWN – The “super spreader” did it.

There have been large parties, even larger, at other SUNY campuses, campus President Barbara Jean Morris told the county Board of Representatives this morning.

The difference here was the one individual – a “Typhoid Mary” of COVID-19, as county Rep. Danny Lapin would describe him (or her) – who attended a particular party on Saturday, Aug. 23, hosted by upper-class athletes who invited some freshmen.

“We believe that was the epicenter of the super-spreader event,” Morris told the county board via Zoom at its September meeting.  “We saw an uptick in waste water (being monitored on-campus for traces of COVID) almost immediately.”

3 Sports Teams Held Parties That Started Outbreak, Morris Says

3 Sports Teams Held

Parties That Started

Outbreak, Morris Says

SUNY Leader Expects ‘Ramp Up’ In Cases

Mayor Gary Herzig, second from upper left, addresses tonight’s first meeting of the Oneonta Control Room, a town-gown entity formed to oversee the local COVID-19 threat and assess the response.  Two boxes below Herzig is SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris; Hartwick College President Margaret L. Drugovich is in the top row, second from right. 

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – With 2,000 COVID-19 tests administered  Sunday and today, SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris warned the Oneonta Control Room to prepare for a “ramp-up” of positive tests during their first meeting over Zoom this evening.

“Obviously this came on fast and hard,” she said. “We had a super-spreader event last weekend with three athletic teams who invited first-year students to a party, then those students came back to campus.”

At present, 177 SUNY students have tested positive for the virus, prompting Chancellor Jim Malatras Sunday to close the campus for two weeks; 600 students were tested between Friday and Saturday, when tests were brought to campus.






Plans To Meet With Herzig, Morris

On ‘How Things Have Been Going’

New SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, right, confers Thursday with Alexander Enyedi, left, the new SUNY Plattsurgh president, who suspended 43 students to help stem a COVID-19 outbreak there. SUNY Oneonta’s outbreak will bring Malatras to Otsego County Monday. ( photo)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Mayor Herzig

ONEONTA – SUNY’s new chancellor, Jim Malatras, will be in Oneonta Monday, meeting with the mayor and the local college president to ensure everything is being done to stem the worst outbreak of COVID-19 – 29 cases – among the system’s 64 institutions.

“We’re one SUNY family,” Malatras told WAMC Radio’s reporter Ian Pickus on Friday’s Midday Magazine in an interview that centered largely on SUNY Oneonta.  “We’re going to harness all the firepower of SUNY.”

Mayor Gary Herzig said he, the new chancellor and SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris will “sit down and talk about how things have been going.”  Herzig, who’s been “disappointed” with Morris’ interface with City Hall, said of Malatras, “He’s been great.  He’s been very, very cooperative, very hands-on.”

3 Of SUNY Stances ‘Disappoint’ Mayor


3 Of SUNY Stances

‘Disappoint’ Mayor

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

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.

Mayor Herzig
Dr. Morris
President Morris

“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)






Dr. Morris
President Morris

ONEONTA – SUNY headquarters has approved a plan that mixes face-to-face and online instruction that will allow students to return to the Oneonta campus this fall, President Barbara Jean Morris announced a few minutes ago.

“Its aim is to carry out the mission of the college — to nurture a community where students grow intellectually, thrive socially and live purposefully — while remaining vigilant against COVID-19,” said Morris.

With Hartwick College having already announced it is reopening, that means 6,000 students – and their spending capacity – will give a boost to the city’s rebound from the COVID-19 threat.

Said Morris, “Thoughtful consideration of several scenarios and extensive input from the campus community went into our plan.”

SUNY Submits Reopening Plan To State

SUNY Oneonta Submits

Reopening Plan To State

President Morris Isn’t Saying What’s In It

President Morris

ONEONTA – SUNY Oneonta has submitted a proposal to SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson for reopening this fall, according to a release from the school, and now awaits a decision on whether or not they will hold classes in-person or online.

The announcement contains no details of what’s in the proposal.

“In a nutshell, our proposal documents how we would like to operate this fall,” said Barbara Jean Morris, college president. “However, there’s a long way to go before we know for sure what next semester will look like.”

Posts navigation

21 Railroad Ave. Cooperstown, New York 13326 • (607) 547-6103