By CHRYSTAL SAVAGE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Monday, Feb. 1, SUNY Oneonta students began in-person, mask-to-mask learning following the start of the virtual spring semester one week prior.
Last fall, the campus made national news for its more than 700-student outbreak that happened almost immediately after undergraduates returned in August.’
With comprehensive testing, mandatory masks and a new campus president, Dennis Craig, with a track record of halting COVID-19 at SUNY Purchase, the hope is things will go much better.
“Of the 64 SUNY schools, 61 did not test students for the virus as they came back to campus,” Assistant Director of Business Services Graig Eichler said.
Not testing is not a good idea, this campus has learned, Eichler said, and a full testing regimen is being applied this semester.
So far, 99.22 percent of tests have been negative, he said.
“A tremendous amount of time and energy has been put in by faculty, staff and the administration to ensure we have a safe semester,” he said. “When we all work together, I’m confident we’ll be successful.”
Despite a 735-signature petition faculty and staff began circulating in November, as of 10 a.m. on Jan. 29, several faculty members interviewed said they always believed they could decide for themselves whether to teach or not.
There was never any mandate, said English professor Richard Lee. “That is not to say,” he added, “that people may not have felt pressure – and that’s not from the administration – it could be that they are new or not tenured. Regardless, people’s fears and concerns are real.”
Lee is among those who decided to teach in “dual-modality” – face-to-face with a camera in the back of the room for students not present – with the help of a classroom production assistant, a paid student trained to handle the streaming technology.
Art Professor Rhea Nowak, who is not teaching in a classroom this semester, and Kimberly Fierke, a Sports & Exercise Sciences assistant professor who is, agreed with Lee.
“I want us to get back to some level of normal, no matter what that might look like,” said Fierke, adding that dual-modality will help that happen.
“I’m tired of teaching to a camera,” she said. “Students are not only disconnected from me, but from one another and the material also.”
The college has issued a notice of “Consequences for Unsafe Behavior,” that explains: “SUNY Oneonta and the City of Oneonta have taken a clear, fair and strict stance against behaviors that jeopardize the health of the community,” including joint “party patrol” efforts between the city and university police.
“Students alleged to have violated city ordinances may be cited or arrested, which could lead to fines or other punishments (and those) found in violation… will be subject to sanctions up to and including full suspension or dismissal,” the notice continues.
“All of us need to stay strong and encourage those around us to continue to make the right choices. This will be critical in the days ahead,” the notice concludes.